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Congress Approves Further Funding for Velocys Microchannel Reactor Fischer-Tropsch Fuels Project

19 October 2006

Velocys2
Velocys microchannels vs. conventional process technology. Click to enlarge.

The US Congress has approved $1.3 million in FY 2007 funding for the further development of a synthetic fuels project by Velocys, a subsidiary of Battelle Memorial Institute.

This project, which is being conducted in conjunction with the US Army National Automotive Center (NAC), has the goal of developing a compact, microchannel reactor-based Fischer-Tropsch process to transform natural gas, coal and other non-petroleum resources into liquid fuels. (Earlier post).

For the key components of the synthetic fuels process, Velocys is applying its patented microchannel process technology.

Microchannel technology can reduce both capital and operating costs, thereby enabling the production of lower cost synthetic fuels. [Velocys technology] allows the bigger is better paradigm of chemical processing to be broken in favor of smaller, more nimble facilities.

—Dr. Wayne Simmons, Velocys CEO
Velocys1
Velocys’s technology improves catalyst activity. Click to enlarge.

Velocys’ reactors are characterized by parallel arrays of microchannels, with typical dimensions ranging between 0.025cm to 0.5cm (0.010–0.200 inch). The enhanced heat and mass transfer of microchannel hardware allow reactions to proceed much more quickly than traditional processes, enabling higher product yield and greater energy efficiency. By effectively controlling heat transfer rates and temperature ranges, microchannel reactors allow catalysts to operate in their peak performance windows.

Approval of another year of funding for the Velocys synthetic fuels program was based on the technical progress made to date. Pat Muzzell, the program’s manager at the NAC which is part of the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center under the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command, said that she was “very pleased with Velocys’ progress on the Fischer-Tropsch reactor and other components of the synthetic fuels process.

Velocys microchannel technology, coupled with novel catalysts, is being used to improve each of the process steps in the production of synthetic fuels from a variety of feedstocks (coal, biomass and natural gas): the conversion of synthesis gas into long chain hydrocarbons in a Fischer-Tropsch process and the subsequent hydrocracking to produce high-quality, sulfur-free, liquid fuels.

Velocys is also working with Total on Gas-to-Liquids production. (Earlier post.) Velocys was launched in 2001 and has already developed a portfolio of 50 patents and received $75 million of investment from industry leading partners, including Dow Chemical, ABB and Total S.A.

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Presumably, the intent is to make even small stranded natural gas deposits economically viable sources of automotive fuels. Other xTL feedstocks should benefit also, especially waste biomass - its low energy density means feedstock logistics are a huge cost factor.

Where are there "small stranded natural gas deposits" ?

Before the mad dash to LNG that is underway, it was thought there was gas that could not find a market...those days have gone. Small scale LNG is cheap (a lot cheaper than making diesel from natural gas!!)

Making synthetic diesel from natural gas is like going from LA to New York by heading West. You can do it, but why?? The planet has enough CO2 without making loads more in this process. If you want to use natural gas for transport, then use natural gas for transport!! Run all your trucks and buses and cars on it, no problem....

A set-aside. Another defeat for sensible budgeting.

John Baldwin -

correct, stranded gas fields are those that cannot currently be brought to market for technological, political or economic reasons; in a wider sense, that includes gas that is vented or flared off rather than re-injected. The logistics alternatives are gas pipelines, LNG tankers, GTL tankers.

The first two options deliver natural gas to the market (LNG is gassified at the receiving terminal). Safety and political concerns long constrained the construction of LNG terminals at either end. Natural gas is great for home heating, industrial processes and electricity generation.

NG can also be used for transportation, e.g. in Italy, Argentina, Pakistan, Germany and a few bus fleet operators (New York City). Note, however, that CNG is typically pressurized ad hoc only at the filling station for safety reasons. For currently stranded gas, the energy overheads of liquefying, shipping and later compressing the gas would have to be factored into the well-to-wheels CO2 balance.

Besides, there are millions of diesel trucks and passenger cars out there. This portion of the energy market can most easily benefit from natural gas via GTL. It may prove to be a transition technology, but it has its place today.

I see huge potential for this technology in BTL applications. Conventional technology costs too much at the scale that would be practical for biomass. This allows scale down to levels that would be practical for biomass.

Where are there "small stranded natural gas deposits"?
What, you had a laziness attack? Do your own research! Or are you suggesting that there are NO small stranded natural gas deposits? Right. And there is no such place as Washington, D.C...

Before the mad dash to LNG that is underway, it was thought there was gas that could not find a market...those days have gone. Small scale LNG is cheap (a lot cheaper than making diesel from natural gas!!)
Read up on the technology, before commenting, if possible. They also use this technology to produce LNG! So whether you want LNG or synthetic diesel, these guys want to sell you a nifty heat exchanger...

Making synthetic diesel from natural gas is like going from LA to New York by heading West. You can do it, but why?? The planet has enough CO2 without making loads more in this process. If you want to use natural gas for transport, then use natural gas for transport!! Run all your trucks and buses and cars on it, no problem....
Um... because diesel is easier to transport and store than LNG. Because there is a bigger market for diesel. Because there are so few existing vehicles that can run on LNG. Liquid fuels have a host of benefits, including, but not limted to, the fact that it is already in widespread use with existing infrastructure and vehicles all over the world. And that is not going to change anytime soon.

The narrow channels suggest that coal or sawdust would have to be completely gasified and free of solids. The fact that the reactors can be made smaller I guess helps taking the process closer to the raw material. If they run problem free this could be a major advance.

Robert Schwartz

I agree that there are millions of diesel vehicles, no problem with them, but in trucks they should be converted to dual fuel (55% CNG, 45% diesel.....still a diesel engine) as the planet has to reduce CO2 and this is a great way to do it. This is happening now in UK.

Petrol (gasoline)vehicles need to be replaced - either with diesel or with natural gas. Both diesel-CNG dual fuel and petrol to CNG are easy to do......it is the best way of reducing CO2. We need more nuclear power, more renewables, more local generation, less centrally generatd gas fired CCGT.....use the gas were it has most CO2 benefit - transport and home heating.

Hydrogen as a means of storing energy on a vehicle is manifestly barmy, the sooner transport is part of emissions trading, the sooner the cost of making H2 wil be factored in, the sooner fuel cells can be thrown in the skip. If today's UK press is to be believed, transport will soon be part of emissions trading......high CO2 cost of making H2 will then be clear.

I work in LNG by the way, no safety issues anymore, all have been engineered out by good design and locations. It is the safest fuel and one that has a fantastic safety record. Do a search on LNG projects and you will be overwhelmed!!

Rafael

I am not lazy, please tell me where there are small stranded gas deposits that cannot access pipelines or small scale LNG. This is a myth!!! You are the lazy one. Is Qatar stranded gas where there is a GTL plant? The oil companies say that GTL is for stranded gas but it manifestly is not. Show me any stranded gas in the world that is being made into GTL...there is none!! Show me any projects were stranded gas is proposed to be made into GTL. None again. Its a fantasy, a myth, everyone in the gas industry knows that!!

Lets be clear, making GTL from gas is not just via a heat exchanger like LNG..its a highly complex conversion process. CO2 cost of making GTL is around 3 times higher than making LNG!!!!

LNG is a liquid fuel, easy to transport and store.....vehicles in UK run on it, there's even a national network of filling stations and new dual fuel (diesel-LNG trucks) being developed....

www.chive-ltd.co.uk/

We have to reduce CO2 from transport - duel fuel diesel with CNG or LNG is a great way to do it. Looking at all the >300 bhp trucks on the planet, 99.99% run on diesel. UK has some on CNG and some on dual fuel diesel-natural gas (CNG and LNG). Only about 500 but thats a start. Looking at UK and US, what other fuel is used for trucks? Hydrogen? Methanol? Electric? Please show me one!!

There are huge reserves of 'stranded' natural gas on Alaksa's North Slope. Building a fabulously expensive new pipeline to get it to the lower 48 is the big political issue up here. I know studies were done some time in the past to consider using FT process to create fuel oil/diesel-type liquid up north at the source, then send in batches down the existing oil pipeline. I keep wondering why the isn't part of the current discussion. The AK oil pipeline is currently running way below capacity.

John Baldwin -

jeez, have you even heard of Google? There's stranded gas in Malysia, Qatar, Nigeria, Alaska, Russia, Australia, ...

http://www.shell.com/home/Framework?siteId=shellgasandpower-en&FC2=/shellgasandpower-en/html/iwgen/products_and_services/what_is_gtl/international_projects/zzz_lhn.html&FC3=/shellgasandpower-en/html/iwgen/products_and_services/what_is_gtl/international_projects/international_projects_100206.html
http://www.sasolchevron.com/escravos_project.htm
http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=9011237&contentId=7020342
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0CYH/is_13_5/ai_76938569
http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=14539038

Basically, almost every oil reservoir in the world also contains some natural gas. More often than not, it's stranded.

As I explained, LNG does compete against GTL for the value-add and transport of such deposits, but these alternatives serve different markets. Btw, neat GTL is only used for racing (24h at Le Mans). It'll be a while before economic and political circumstances force wider acceptance of any xTL fuel, because the stuff is not cheap.

Converting a diesel engine to run on NG can be done for the sake of emissions but it doesn't improve fuel efficiency or CO2 production.

John Baldwin,
I suppose LNG could reduce CO2 emissions some, but not very much. It is still a fossil fuel. The CO2 reducion due to the higher H:C ratio is minimal as far as I am concerned. In other words, for all the cost and trouble of converting to LNG, you are not going to make much of dent in CO2 emissions. There are better alternatives.

As I mentioned above, the big potential I see for this technology is BTL (biomass to liquid). This would reduce overall CO2 emissions to zero, since the feedstock is renewable.

Converting any new form of energy to the same liquid fuels we are all accustomed to has many benefits. How much energy (and CO2) is it going to require to convert existing vehicles to LNG. How long before break-even?

Take two minutes (before commenting) and figure out who posted what...

Wow! What a comments. I’ll try to be gentle:

1. Both natural gas and diesel engines emit about 10% less CO2 then gasoline engines per unit energy delivered. Counting NG and diesel as “green” fuels/technology in light of CO2 emissions is delusional at best.
2. Cryogenic liquefaction of NG requires a lot of energy. Up to 30% of NG is wasted to liquefy it. Immediately after liquefaction, cryogenic LNG vessels begin to boil-off LNG it containing, and the smaller the vessel the higher rate of boil-off. Ocean-going LNG tankers usually use boil-off gas for propulsion (on steam turbines or dual-fuel marine diesels). On arrival to terminals LNG is gasified and pumped into existing pipelines immediately. For storage and vehicular applications LNG is unacceptable – boil-off continues when vehicle is parked, creating explosion hazard. Moreover, NG is 23 times more potent green house agent then CO2, and from the point of view of GW neophyte it should be the worst of the evils. Parked vehicle with LNG tank will boil-off all LNG in about a week. Use of LNG as transportational fuel is on pair with H2 IC engine, would you pardon my French.
3. Dual fuel engines referred by John are back-yard-mechanic Dinosaurs. Modern generation of lean-burn high compression NG engines manage to accomplish fuel ignition by simple spark, and the engines are working with diesel-like compression ratio and thermal efficiency. Powerful stationary diesel-generators of such design are standard and increasingly popular. Vehicular varieties (for heavy trucks) of such engines are on initial stages of commercialization, for example from Cummings and Caterpillar.
4.
Back to civilized discussion.

Nick:

You are right on all points. NG supply is strained because of artificial political/land accusation hurdles facing construction of new pipelines, not because of lack on NG reserves in N. America or elsewhere. I read once that oil companies have to re-inject back to underground amount of NG coming together with oil in Prudhoe Bay fields comparable with NG consumption of whole Great Britain. Why gas-to-liquid plans are not constructed in Alaska remains mystery to me. Couple of huge (in Bahrain, for example) GTL plants demonstrate that technology is quite viable.

Unfortunately, on big scale projects NG liquefaction is cheaper than GTL process. The prime example is huge project for supplying LNG to US Eastbound from Russian Barents sea fields (yes, by the same route US/Canada convoys supplied Russia during WW2).

I hope that for small scale applications potentially more energy efficient GTL technology described in the core article will change the picture.

Nick - those countries you mention do not have standed gas at all - the export bu ship (Malalysi, Australia, Nigeria, Qatar) or pipeline (Russia, Alaska). Stranded gas is gas that cannot go into a pipeline, cannot be made into LNG, cannot be burnt in a power generation plant. Please find some of that...where??? Show me the field on a map.

An engineer - total incremental CO2 cost to make LNG, transport it to UK and regasify it is around 8%. Gas is reinjected to get more oil not because its standed!! Look on websites of LNG producers like BG Group.

Re dual fuel - see http://www.cleanairpower.com/?p=news_and_events - look at the Tesco Press release. This is LOW carbon technology, especially if you use bio-methane. Its also high tech and not at all delusional!! How else can Tesco reduce CO2 from trucks by 20%????

John Baldwin -

what exactly does it take to get you to actually look up the definition of "economically stranded gas" to double-check your position? So laaaaazy...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranded_gas_reserve

Damn i just want to find out how to convert my old rv to wood or natural gas.....on make my own Fischer-Topech converter so i can use the liquid fuel. i live in nrthern minmnesota...it snowed here 3 days ago....globle WORMING :P my ass!!!!!!!snow in late may!!!!!!!!!

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