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Diversified Energy and Velocys Win DoD Contract for Portable Waste-to-Synfuel Plant

Process flow chart for the Hydro-Max/Velocys portable Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) fuels plant. Click to enlarge.

Diversified Energy Corporation (DEC), developers of the HydroMax gasification process (earlier post), and Velocys Inc., a Battelle subsidiary specializing in microchannel reactor technology (earlier post), have been selected by the US Department of Defense (DoD) to design a portable synthetic fuel production system based on DEC’s HydroMax gasification technology and Velocys’ advanced Fischer-Tropsch approach.

The goal of the DoD funded effort is to develop a transportable system that can convert waste products generated at military installations into 50-500 barrels per day of high-performance synthetic fuels such as diesel and aviation fuel.

DoD is the single largest fuel consumer in the country, with an annual fuel budget of approximately $9 billion and rising. Forward operating military bases generate scores of waste material and have an enormous demand for fuel products. As a result, an opportunity exists to incorporate advanced energy conversion technologies that can utilize waste materials to generate high performance fuels, thereby reducing the logistical burden of fuel transportation for military operations.

DEC’s HydroMax gasification technology, under license from Alchemix Corporation, will be used to convert waste products (biomass, solid-waste, etc.) into a synthetic gas (syngas). The Velocys fuel synthesis technology will then convert the syngas from HydroMax into diesel and jet fuel that can be utilized for a wide variety of military applications.

The HydroMax process begins with a molten iron/tin (FeSn) bath heated to 1,300°C. Steam is injected into the bath, and is then thermochemically split resulting in H2 gas (released) and oxidized iron. In the second step, after the iron is oxidized, steam injection ceases and a carbon source (here, the waste) is injected into the reactor. Carbon has a high affinity to oxygen and reduces the oxidation of Fe to its pure form and produces a CO-rich syngas which is released for use.

Diversified Energy says that the HydroMax technique can deliver gasification systems at up to 50% the cost of traditional systems and with 80+% efficiency.

Velocys chemical processors are characterized by parallel arrays of microchannels, with typical dimensions in the 0.01 to 0.20 inch range. Processes are intensified by decreasing transfer resistances between process fluids and channel walls. This structure allows use of more active catalysts than conventional systems, greatly increasing the throughput per unit volume. Overall system volumes can be reduced by ten to one hundred fold compared to conventional hardware.

This DOD Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase I project will include bench-scale test data analysis, conceptual design of a transportable fuel production system, economic analysis, and a detailed assessment of system modularity and transportability. At the conclusion of the Phase I SBIR effort, the Diversified Energy/Velocys team will compete for a Phase II project that will fund development of a prototype integrated fuel production system.




The US army would gain much from converting all of their ground vehicles into series plug-in hybrids. Such a change could cut the liquid fuel needs by 80% for all ground vehicles. The army could easily set up mobile PVs and wind turbines at their main bases and forward bases to deliver all the necessary electricity. Fuel deliveries are responsible for the bulk of the logistic operations in any military operation and therefore they are also responsible for the bulk of casualties from improvised road side bombs that kill the majority of soldiers in war zones.

The last 20% of liquid fuel could be eliminated by using fuel cells with hydrogen made from electrolysis of water. In essence you could create an army that is completely self-supplied with fuel to run its ground vehicles. We have the technology but it will be expensive to do this conversion. However, price is less of an issue for military applications of technology.

Rafael Seidl

Knowing the US Army, they'll probably end up using a single-stage gas turbine to drive the generator of their Plug-in-plug-out HEV. One moving part, compact, lightweight and runs cleanly on just about anything. As long as you only run it at full power for significant stretches at a time, it's not even awful in terms of fuel economy.

In a bigger vehicle, you could add a secondary turbine (cp. TIGERS project) or even a good old-fashioned steam cycle (cp. BMW turbosteamer project). A 500kW co-genset might well get over 50% thermodynamic efficiency, values otherwise reserved for giant marine diesels and fuel cells.


Gee, if we weren't waging misguided wars for oil, perhaps the Army's need for more efficient transport would be less. Not that I'm against progress, mind you, but the tragic irony of it all is a bit much.


I remember a story about M1 tanks racing across the desert ahead of their fuel trucks. It was said that they had to slow down to wait for them to catch up. A turbine powered Abrams tank uses lots of fuel and it still has to get to the field somehow.


You are right, multi-fuel turbines are more likely as range extenders for military series PHEVs at least for the coming decade or two. Longer down the road it may be fuel cell range extenders that run on liquid hydrogen from insulated tanks like the BMW’s 7 series hydrogen car. I don’t thing pressure tanks are compact enough for military use. It will be very difficult to go exclusively on hydrogen because you need to have a system in place that can handle a lot of liquid hydrogen in the special situation where you move into enemy territory with massive numbers of vehicles. This will require much more fuel than the more ordinary situation where the troops are operating out of fixed bases like they do currently in Iraq and Afghanistan. You could probably ship in liquid hydrogen and deliver it over land in tanker trucks much like you do with diesel. Subsequently, you could set up local production of hydrogen with PVs and wind turbines and possible even with mobile nuclear power as well. If they can fit a sizable nuclear power plant in a submarine they should also be able to put such a thing on ten trucks and assemble it on a base for rapid local production of hydrogen. Or maybe not, I admit this is a bit speculative. However, I am sure that series PHEVs for military use is the future we just don’t know the long-term future technology of the range extender.


If such compact transformers can be made to be practical at the battlefield, it will be even more practical to install them at the gas-station next-door. The unit can transform any carbon-source (waste, biomass,...) to gasoline.
mobile units can be used to transform biomass to fuel where the biomass is grown. Transport of the liquid fuel is manyfold more efficient (in MJ/kg) than transporting the biomass.

The military advantage will be enormous : no more need for wars.


Given the use the US Army has planned for these units, I'll have to assume that the resulting fuel is much too expensive for everyday use.

Bob Bastard

The military advantage will be enormous : no more need for wars.
God bless your little heart Alain, but war existed long before the internal combustion engine, and I'm guessing it will plague the world long after the last ICE comes to a sputtering halt.


A system involving molten iron doesn't sound very portable, and presumably needs to keep running 24/7. I take it the FT module hasn't been coupled to the syngas plant as yet. If the system can be made to work for the Third World it could make up for various DoD misadventures.


Bob, I was indeed exaggerating a bit too much.
But although it is not clear whether the US went to war because of oil, if oil had no value, the armies of the middle east would be as significant as the army of mosambique.
If terrorists around the world wouldn't be funded by petro-dollars, it would be a lot quieter.

In our world, only rich nations are of military significance. But again in our world, there are only two ways of being a rich nation : having a (relatively) educated population and an open economy or having petroleum.

Nations with an educated population and an open economy have very few reasons to go to war, except if they are (at risk of being) attacked. And only uneducated people are foolish enough to attack a country that is much mightier than themselves.

So indeed, the ICE didn't invent war, but it funds warlords and dictators. The greatest military victory we can obtain (for the near future) is devaluating oil. If these kinds of devices could be made on a large scale to transform any biomass or waste to fuel, it could replace almost all the residual liquid fuel we need to fill our range-extenders and airplanes.

If we can make crude worthless, many of the dictators which are our greatest enemies will be easily defeated by their own inhabitants.

Nevertheless, we will indeed need an army after the devaluation of oil, but it's a step in the right direction.

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