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Syntroleum to Begin Coal-to-Liquids Testing

Syntroleum will begin testing the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) catalyst used in its gas-to-liquids (GTL) process with coal-derived syngas produced at an established gasification facility.

The new testing program is designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Syntroleum FT-410 cobalt catalyst with proven coal-derived syngas clean-up and treatment processes for use in a coal-to-liquids (CTL) application. Syngas, which consists of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, is the building block for many chemical processes including FT synthetic fuels.

Syntroleum has been running a 70 barrel per day GTL demonstration facility at the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Okla. for two years.

This [CTL] testing program is an important step for Syntroleum in demonstrating that our proven natural gas-to-liquids technology is also applicable to coal-to-liquids as well. We see this as an opportunity to develop our position toward participation in future coal-to-liquids plants.

—Ken Roberts, senior vice president of business development

The testing protocol will include two bench-scale FT reactors and gas sampling connections to the clean syngas production flow. The testing program is planned to begin in January and run for approximately six months. Syntroleum specialists will work with the personnel from the gasification company in this program funded by Syntroleum.

Unlike other GTL technologies, the Syntroleum process uses air, rather than pure oxygen. This eliminates the need for an oxygen plant attached to the GTL facility, enabling a more compact facility. Syntroleum has developed plans for a GTL barge that can economically take the processing capability to stranded gas fields. (Earlier post.)

In an effort to test out the potential for stranded gas processing using the GTL barge, Syntroleum had organized a partnership to develop an offshore field in Nigeria. The Aje-3 appraisal drilling was intended to lay the foundation for a stream of oil and natural gas production that would provide the first test for the Gas-to-Liquids Barge came up dry earlier this year however. (Earlier post.)

In Syntroleum’s business model for the Aje project, developing the oil from the field would provide some of the funding for the construction of the production-grade GTL barge—about a US$400-million proposition. Ongoing production of the oil plus the processing of the natural gas into liquid fuels would then combine into a healthy revenue stream.

The company also just announced it is taking a 40% position in another Nigerian development, the Ajapa Field, in pursuit of the same strategy.

In its quarterly results conference call in July, Syntroleum management indicated that there is a serious increase in the interest and in the number of proposals being brought to it on CTL projects (more than 10 so far this year, from the US, Australia and China). Accordingly, Syntroleum said then that it viewed CTL as an added opportunity, and one that it will investigate, but not at the expense of its primary focus on GTL. (Earlier post.)

One of the key areas for investigation is the various gasification technologies that would be required to gasify the coal—and also the processes for the associated clean-up of the gas to ensure its compatibility with the catalyst—hence the new CTL testing program.

With the rapid increase in interest in CTL in the US, and with the financial incentives provided by the Energy Act of 2005, CTL may be becoming more than an “added opportunity” for Syntroleum.

Coal-to-liquids technology has the potential of providing a tremendous source of ultra-clean fuels from abundant coal reserves in the United States and other regions of the world. The U.S. has the world’s largest estimated recoverable coal reserves equaling over 268 billion tons. If only 5 percent of this coal were converted to FT liquids, it would be equivalent to the entire oil reserves currently held by the U.S.

Our 20-year history in gas-to-liquids is a foundation for successful transition into coal-to-liquids in the coming years.

—Ken Roberts



I'm puzzled by the term 'ultra-clean' when a Princeton study estimates a doubling of CO2 emissions per unit of fuel. Perhaps they mean low sulphur and hope the public will buy it. Even with CO2 capture the wholesale replacement of oil with CTL is mind boggling. Since the article doesn't mention CO2 capture I guess we'll get to hell even quicker.


They draw a distinction between the production of the fuel and the burning of the fuel.

In use (tank to wheels), the fuels burn cleaner than petroleum-based fuels. Even the use of FT fuels in relatively low blends with petroleum diesel has resulted in larger reductions in PM and other tailpipe emissions. So in situations where it is the criteria pollutants from the tailpipe that are being measured and monitored, to call FT fuels cleaner than petroleum fuels is true. (It's also the aromatics content, not just the sulfur.)

But in production (well to tank), the Fischer-Tropsch fuels carry a much heavier CO2 burden--as you point out--at least absent sequestration and so on--plus the other emissions from production.

Put hydrogen produced by steam methane reforming in a similar category.

That's one reason Argonne is now considering energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and criteria pollutant emissions in its well-to-wheels analyses. (Argonne's May 2005 WTW study was the first comprehensive strudy that factored in WTW emissions of criteria pollutants.)

All that needs to be factored in to the overall assessment of and support for a fuel. AND that more systemic view of the pluses and minuses of a given fuel and vehicle platform needs to become the norm for evalation and adoption--not just what the fuel does in the engine.


Is it feasible to build huge green houses near the refinery and pump in any CO2 the refinery might produce into the green house? And then maybe again the refinery use the green house plant(like elephant grass) as feedstock. I read about some "bio-reactor" with powerplants pumping CO2 into algae tank.


May i ask, how do we pronounce this "Tropsch"? Trop-sher or Trops? I assume that "Fischer" is sound like "Fisher" ^_^


"If only 5 percent of this coal were converted to FT liquids, it would be equivalent to the entire oil reserves currently held by the U.S."

hooo... that means US total coal reserve can serve 100% US needs for more then half a century?


We have some SERIOUS carbon problem to solve here!


Yes there is a simple way to convert CO2 plus algae to biomass, see this link for details http://www.greenfuelonline.com/media.htm .

Also would be feasible to feed it into closed greenhouses; double CO2 in the air gives almost double plant growth, but don't know how big volume of CO2 could be consumed.

Another CO2 use is in car-aircons relacing the 1300 times more active greenhouse gas HFC-134a and also in heat pumps. Lot of work on this in Europe and legislation is to be introduced shortly to mandate it.

Roger Arnold

Coal gasification does normally produce a fair amount of CO2. That's because the gasification reaction is driven by heat produced by partial combustion of the coal. I think the fraction of the coal that gets burned in converting the rest to syngas is something like 30%. That's off the top of my head however; it could be a bit higher or lower.

It's possible to have 100% of the carbon end up in the syngas. You just have to supply enough heat by some other means.

Concentrated solar energy could do it, in principle. It wouldn't be economical, though, because the scale would be way too small. A better bet is to use wind or solar electricity to produce hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. The oxygen is used in place of oxygen from an air separation plant. It drives the gasification in a conventional manner. But the hydrogen is added to the hot synthesis gas before the CO2 is separated. Half of it reacts with the CO2 to produce CO and H2O.

The end result is that the heat to drive the reaction is ultimately supplied by the recombination of H2 and O2 after electrolysis. It's equivalent to capturing the CO2 produced by gasification and reacting it with H2 to produce syngas. But it's more economical, because the reaction takes place in the gasifier, and doesn't require separate equipment.

Regulations linking the construction of CTL facilities with construction of CO2-free energy resources would not only reduce total CO2 emissions, but would also help to create a market for wind and soloar power large enough to bring costs down.

James Mayer

Coal-to-liquids (CTL) plants will likely be carbon capture units. The comments about CTL plant CO2 emissions are overstated. One of the benefits of the CTL process (coal gasification and then Fischer-Tropsch to make liquid fuels) is that it lends itself to relatively inexpensive, complete CO2 capture. These plants can, should and will likely be brought online as near zero emissions facilities. You will likely see many CTL plants sited in proximity to certain mature oil fields, such that CO2 from the plants can be transported by pipeline into the oil fields to revitalize crude production. Literally billions of barrels of U.S. oil are available for recovery from played out U.S. oil fields using CO2 Enhance Oil Recovery injection. Currently this technique is being used with great success. The constraint is inadaquate supplies of inexpensive, pure CO2. Much of the CO2 from new CTL plants will probably be safely sequestered in geologic oil reservoirs after it is utilized to produce substantial quantities of domestic oil. As an example, Dakota Gasification Company in North Dakota, the largest coal gasificaton plant in the U.S., is currently selling large quantities of CO2 to a Canadian oil company (Encana), which is pipeling the gas 200 miles into Canada and injecting it into an old oil field. Encana's Weyburn oil field has thus be reborn. The CTL process with carbon capture is quite green folks, an the potential is tremendous.


Based on our research, CO2 emission from a CTL plant is about 0.5 metric tones per barrel of liquid fuels. About 60% of coal turns into oil and 40% of coal is consumed as energy input.

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