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Future Fuels and Startech Partner on Waste-to-Ethanol Plasma/F-T Systems

13 March 2006

Startech Plasma Converter

Future Fuels, Inc. (FFI) and Startech Environmental Corporation have entered into a mutually exclusive global strategic alliance agreement through which FFI will use Startech’s Plasma Converter System to transform feedstock materials such as used tires, municipal solid waste and biomass into ethanol.

The Startech Plasma Converter System transforms these feedstock materials into a syngas (plasma converted gas—PCG) rich in carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that is well-suited for the production of ethanol through FFI’s Fischer-Tropsch derivative catalytic ethanol synthesis process.

The integrated system will first be installed in FFI’s Toms River, New Jersey 52-million-gallon waste-to-ethanol production facility, for which FFI has already secured land, environmental permits, feedstock sources suitable for conversion into ethanol, a ten-year ethanol purchase contract, and preliminary approval for an $84 million bond authorization from the state of New Jersey.

According to the terms of the alliance, FFI agrees to purchase Startech’s Plasma Converter Systems for use in its waste-to-ethanol conversion process. Both FFI and Startech agree to cooperate in identifying and pursuing business opportunities in which Startech’s products and equipment are integrated with FFI’s equipment and production process to operate waste-to-ethanol conversion facilities not only within the U.S. ethanol market but also internationally.

Startech’s Plasma Converter System contains a plasma field that reaches temperatures up to 30,000º C. The plasma breaks down feedstock materials—such as waste coal, used tires, wood wastes, raw sewage, municipal solid wastes, biomass, discarded roofing shingles, coal waste known as culm, discarded corn stalks, and other agricultural by-products-to their core elements. The resulting Plasma Converted Gas is the input for FFI’s catalytic ethanol synthesis process.

FFI’s approach, a modified Fischer-Tropsch process similar in nature to one Dow Chemical pioneered in the mid 1980s, applies heat, pressure and a catalyst to chemically transform the Plasma Converted Gas into ethanol.

Startech’s basic Plasma Converter system consists of:

  • In-feed System. The feed mechanism can simultaneously accommodate any proportion or combination of solid, liquid and gaseous feedstock.

  • Plasma Vessel. The plasma vessel is a cylindrical two-part container made of stainless steel with an opening in the roof through which the plasma torch is inserted. The vessel is specially designed to ensure that no feedstock material is able to reach the exit port without first passing through the plasma energy field and undergoing complete molecular dissociation. The method by which this is accomplished forms a part of Startech's intellectual property. In addition, the plasma vessel is maintained at a slight negative pressure to ensure that no gases can escape to atmosphere.

    The plasma torch system is a commercially available product that Startech can purchase from any number of reputable vendors.

  • Gas Treatment. The gas treatment system is comprises six stages:

    • High temperature cyclone separator to remove particulates;
    • Quench stage (with heat recovery, if desired);
    • Cartridge dust collector to remove particulates;
    • Selective catalytic reduction to remove NOx;
    • Packed column scrubber to remove acids and volatized metals; and
    • Final polishing

  • Computer Control Station
  • Power Supply

March 13, 2006 in Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL), Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack (1)


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This is a solution to multiple issues. My questiosn is what kind of energy does it take to make something 30K degrees?

Any time you can convert waste that would otherwise have ended up into fuel and other useful by-products, you're solving two problems at once. Using a plasma torch for the purpose suggests this particular process is rather energy intensive, though.

Another company with similar claims with a rather more low-tech approach is Changing World Technologies, who have built a demonstration plant next to ConAgra's Butterball turkey abatoir in Carthage, Missouri.

The plant was shut down at one point because nearby residents complained of foul odors - presumably from turkey carcasses rather than the TDP process as such.

It takes quite a bit of energy but keep in mind that the process generates syngas and waste heat.These can be looped to supply energy to run process.This process would not have a smell problem due to the electrically induced 30000 degree temp.The feedstock is dissasembled at a molecular level by the 30000 degree plasma.Startech is very Star Trek.Their process can render harmless hazardous wates.BRI Energy may produce more energy output but this has much wider application.Visit their website and read their online brochure,fascinating, as Spock would say.

Brilliant,somehow I posted as Rafael.The post with the Spock reference is mine.

If you have process gas, why create ethanol, which has a low enegy density. Why not octane?

why process Ethanol? Ethanol has a genreous subsidy.

Thermal chemical depolymerization isn't similar to plasma gasification. TDP basically cuts long chains into smaller ones, it doesn't create new chains. Gasification makes syngas a combination of CO and H, CO2, cleans the gas, removes ipurities and dilutent gases and then feeds the syngas into a reactor which produces Hydrocarbons, alcohols, Ethers or other organic molecules depending on the catalyst, stoichimetric balance and residence time.

You can use syngas to make everything from methane to octane to methanol, ethanol, DME Etc. The feedstock can be any carbaceous material.

180-200 proof ethanol is a much cleaner fuel than gasoline and diesel fuel. It is about the lowest emission fuel we could use. It has a much higher octane than gasoline which means higher compression ratio could compensate for lower energy density.

Speaking of Changing World Technologies, as mention in the comment above, they're open again.

Alan -

technically, you are right. However, with appropriate operating parameters, TDP can deal with just about any feedstock featuring long-chained organic molecules. This includes abatoir waste, corn stovers, hospital waste, sewage, municipal waste, tires etc. The result is something akin to a light sweet crude and refined into No2 and No4 gasoil. These can be used as-is for transportation and space heating, respectively. At today's prices, TDP diesel is profitable in its own right and of course, ConAgra avoids expensive landfill charges. This will become even more significant once avian flu hits the US (sadly, just a matter of time).

Going down all the way to CO and H2 and then synthesizing whatever compounds you like is possible but I have a hunch it's even more expensive.

Is there anyway to turn garbage into clean synthetic fuels like the syntroleum ft process, Why not Butanol,

Solid feedstock presumably would need to be crushed and dried, both energy sapping processes. A viable plant would need to process several tons per hour; it is not stated whether off-the-shelf plasma torches can do this. How much of the syngas needs to be burned to power the torch? Hopefully this would be less than 50%, net of any heat recovery. Lastly the fuel synthesis process itself has energy losses. This chain could have more than one weak link.

Well the crushing and drying could all be done energy recovered from the waste heat. Also just about anything, poison, toxic, biohazard could be fed in and used. Basically anything not radioactive. So money could be made getting rid of stuff as well as from the output fuel. The main issue is ramping up the process for volume and of course if it takes too much energy to run.

We have people here in Boulder County that have gotten their trash load down to almost zero waste through recycling and composting. This seems like a more elegant long term solution to the problem. The goal is to get the whole county to almost zero unrecycled or unreused waste.

Composting is overrated. You take your organic waste, leave it in a pile, where it turns anaerobic, i.e. it produces CO2 and CH4 (20 times worse GHG than CO2). All energy in the waste is lost as heat. The only thing you are left with is the nutrients.

Compare that to a good waste -> fuel process. The bulk of the organic carbon is captured as fuel. Some is lost as CO2, depending on the efficiency of the process and the energy density of the feedstock. However, once you have extracted the energy you are left with a mineral product which has the bulk of the nutrients, excluding perhaps the nitrogen. So, instead of leaking CH4 into the atmosphere, you are capturing that carbon in the form of a liquid fuel. And you still have the nutrients.

We don't really have enough info on TDP to know exactly how it works. Just because the name says "depolymerization" does not mean it can only break large molecules into smaller ones. Think the chemistry is affected by the name the inventor chose? Notice that CWT has recently started using the name "thermal conversion process" for that very reason, I suspect.

Of course, good technical information on TDP is a rarity. One of the better sources is a lecture Dr. Terry Adams gave at MIT ( click on "Lecture Notes" and then on "April 5, 2005, The CWT Thermal Conversion Process (Guest speaker: Dr. Terry Adams)". If you read through that it sounds asif the Carthage Plant basically consists of three steps:
1. A Thermo-Acid Hydrolysis Step that sounds suspiciously like Dilute Acid Hydrolysis, see This step converts all biopolymers to their monomers. In the case of turkey guts, protein is broken down to amino acids. Fat is converted to fatty acids and glycerol.
2. Separation of fat and water. The importance of this step is that the water-soluble organics (a significant part including glycerol and 2/3 of amino acids) ends up in the effluent. This makes claims of 85% energy efficiency highly dubious. CWT has a good answer for that: "Amino acids are good fertilizer." Bit of waste of amino acids, I would think. Good salemanship from CWT, though.
3. The fat part then goes to the second stage where the main reaction is decarboxylation (converting fatty acid to oil) and a secondary reaction is deamination (which together with decarboxylation would convert some amino acids into oil).

If this is the way all TDP plants work, then it has rather limited application. The bulk of the promising feedstock out there is carbohydrate. The monomers of carbohydrates are water-soluble sugars. If these would end up in the effluent, TDP would not be able to do anything with a carbohydrate feedstock.

Can carbohydrates (C5 and C6) be converted to oil (C8 and higher)? Yes it can, see Note however that these are lab conditions, pure substances, very predictable chemistry, etc. Whether it works in the real world remains to be seen.

Why would you use a Plasma/Fischer-Tropsch, if you can use Gasification/F-T? Seems like the latter has all the benefits of the former (gas cleaning, converting char, etc. see ), but it operates at vastly lower temperatures (400 - 500°C). Heating something to 30,000°C has to be energy intensive, even if you do heat recovery.

Link to previous GCC story on Butanol. It would seem to be superior to ethanol in many ways.

Yes, if you just leave your compost in a pile and do not use proper techniques with respect to composition and aeration, then you have a problem. Rest assured, however, that if you just dump your vegetable wastes in the trash, it will just be added to the landfill and turn into anerobic, methane generating waste. In any event, we need to eliminate waste wherever possible. Reuse, recycle and minimize waste such as packaging at the source.

If you having problem with compost pile, why not consider anaerobic digester? Capture the methane and you will produce both fuel and nutrient as end product. Plus no plasma is needed in the process, only need a little time.

According to thier website enough gas is generated with most waste streams that if it was fed into a generator it would be able to power the process.

This does sound good.

This whole notion of developing these kinds of fuel/ bioreactors as a more consumer usable product comes up. There are just a lot of issues to overcome in terms of smell and safety, but if properly maintained it seems like a simple, automated system could be developed to serve a small village or community for waste management, compost, heat and energy needs.

"Q: How would a Plasma Converter get to a ground zero site in the event of a terrorist hazardous attack?
A: Truck-mounted mobile Plasma Converter systems that could be rapidly deployed to process and destroy hazardously contaminated materials at ground zero."

Somebody needs to let DHS know. These guys would have been very useful in cleaning up after Katrina, and may even have reduced gasoline prices as a nice side benefit.

can we use biogas in automobiles?

Yes, assuming its processed for that purpose.

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