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Syntroleum Successfully Completes Coal-to-Liquids Demonstration

Syntroleum Corporation has successfully completed a demonstration of its cobalt Fischer-Tropsch slurry catalyst technology with coal gasification and synthesis gas clean-up processes proven by Eastman Chemical Company.

In November 2005, Syntroleum Corporation and Eastman entered into an agreement to conduct a bench-scale demonstration of Syntroleum’s cobalt FT slurry catalyst applied in a coal-to-liquids process. The testing program began in December 2006 and the 2,500-hour bench-scale test run was recently completed at Eastman’s Kingsport, Tennessee facility.

The testing program was conducted exclusively with Continuous Stirred Tank Reactors (CSTR) because they accurately represent a three-phase slurry system, and Syntroleum has a database of operations which are used to correlate catalyst performance between CSTR, pilot scale and demonstration scale reactors.

Testing at Eastman’s facility employed two CSTR’s operating in parallel. The Eastman Live CTL CSTR operated with coal-derived syngas taken from the process line feeding commercial operations within the Eastman plant. The Eastman Reference CSTR was operated with high-purity synthesis gas that was cryogenically separated and cleaned. The reference CSTR helps to gage the differences in performance due to contaminants in the commercial coal-derived syngas.

The fuels made from coal have the same synthetic Fischer-Tropsch (FT) qualities as those made from natural gas, the test results showed. The demonstration also proved that Syntroleum’s proprietary cobalt-based catalyst performs robustly under real-world coal-to-liquids (CTL) conditions, as was predicted from earlier extended life tests performed by Syntroleum.

This successful demonstration under the most challenging condition of live coal derived syngas is also very important for the future of our Biomass to Liquids technology. The syngas produced from gasifying such biomass feedstocks as corn stover, wood by-products, and chicken litter is more difficult to clean up than natural gas-based syngas but much easier than coal-based syngas. By demonstrating the commercial viability of our cobalt catalyst for coal, we have also addressed its suitability for any renewable feedstock.

—Jack Holmes, CEO of Syntroleum



GN Robertson

The conclusion of the article is: "Syntroleum has shown that coal gasification coupled with a cobalt based FT process is a viable technology for generating an alternative source of transportation fuels and chemical feedstocks".

Is this not somewhat disingenuous?

Delete the word "cobalt", and Syntroleum is showing something on a pilot scale, that SASOL has achieved on a 160,000 barrel-per-day production scale, at Secunda near Johannesburg, for the past 25 years.

Instead delete the words "coal gasification", and Syntroleum is showing something that SASOL and Chevron are about to bring on stream in Qatar, at a 35,000 barrel-per-day scale, but using natural gas feedstock; and which Shell has already implemented on a somewhat smaller scale in Malaysia.

So what is new? Everything rather depends on what the meaning of the words "has shown" is.

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