Researchers from South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Centre of Material and Process Synthesis (COMPS) are planning to build a pilot coal-to-liquids (CTL) project in the Shaanxi province in China. The R75-million (US$10.5-million) pilot project is expected to be 30% more efficient than the current technology and will consist of seven reactors.
The project is being funded by the Golden Nest Technology Group, which contracted in 2003 for the development of the conceptual foundation of a coal-to-liquids (CTL) plant with a production capacity of 3 million tonnes a year. If the pilot project is successful, the first commercial plant will be built.
The main aim of this multidisciplinary project is to make cleaner, faster and cheaper fuel from coal. This project is unique in that it is the largest project of this caliber undertaken by a university in this field. With eight COMPS staff members and twenty research students working on the project, it provides excellent training for the team to work on developing a life-size plant from scratch, with minimal fundamental information.—Brendon Hausberger, a Director of COMPS
COMPS will partner with international teams to design and oversee the development of the 100,000 tonnes per year demonstration plant in China in the next year. The team is looking at an optimized design of a plant that has low capital costs such that a group of smaller investors could raise the capital; has a low risk design, is inherently stable to operate and start up and is suited for the environment in a developing economy, in terms of operator skills and capital intensity.
The concepts that will be explored in this project with a view to implementation in subsequent plants, could help to reduce the CO2 emissions in coal-based economies, according to Professor David Glase, one of the project leaders. He says that this will be vital in terms of increased economic efficiency as well as in the future if limitations and taxes are put on CO2 emissions internationally.
The COMPS technology could reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 6.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per ton of fuel produced, from the current level of 7.5 tonnes, according to one report. One metric ton of diesel fuel is equivalent to about 300 gallons US. The COMPS research team is also looking at combining gas-to-liquids (GTL) and coal-to-liquids (CTL) technology, which would potentially cut emissions further.
China currently has about 27 coal-based chemicals and fuels projects in construction, planning and or feasibility stages.