|Cross-section of a Velocys microchannel reactor|
International oil major Total is launching a new R&D program on converting natural gas to liquids (GTL processes). The company has recently signed a cooperation agreement with a number of partners in science and industry in this area, including Battelle subsidiary Velocys.
Total is working to develop a new technology that uses microchannel reactors and more active catalysts to produce the synthesis gas used in the Fischer-Tropsch process.
Velocys is a microchannel technology specialist, with its chemical processors being characterized by parallel arrays of microchannels, with typical dimensions in the 0.025-cm to 0.5-cm (0.010- to 0.200-inch) range.
Processes are improved by reducing heat and mass transfer distances and thus decreasing transfer resistances between process fluids and channel walls. This structure allows use of much more active catalysts than conventional systems, greatly increasing the throughput per unit volume. Overall system volumes can be reduced by ten fold to one hundred fold compared to conventional hardware.
Some of the applications relevant to Total’s GTL push under development at Velocys include:
Development of compact synthetic fuel production systems suitable for installation on land or on offshore floating production facilities. This would offer Total a way to monetize stranded gas resources, much as Syntroleum is proposing with its compact GTL Barge.
Methanol synthesis suitable for land-based or offshore floating production facility.
Rapid cycle separation process to upgrade sub-quality natural gas streams
Velocys designs and tests its technology at full-scale. Scale-up is then achieved by simply increasing the number of channels in the system. Since each channel performs identical unit operations, the scale-up risks are minimized. The primary challenge to this approach is creating manifolds that evenly distribute flow throughout the microchannel devices. Velocys has extensive experience in designing and building manifolds to distribute fluids uniformly in very complex devices.
Total has also recently entered into a partnership with Neste Oil to build a next-generation biomass to liquids test plant (NexBTL) at one of its refineries. The microchannel reactors could play a role in the development of those processes as well.
Microchannel Catalytic Process for Converting Biomass Derived Syngas to Transportation Fuels, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (operated by Battelle)