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Oxford Catalysts in Agreement for Small-Scale Fischer-Tropsch Applications

Oxford Catalysts Group PLC, a developer of novel catalyst technology (earlier post), has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a specialist technology developer for the deployment of Oxford’s proprietary catalysts in small scale Fischer-Tropsch (FT) applications, such as the conversion of bio-waste or flare gas into synthetic liquid fuels—a potential global market of more than 4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

FT catalysts are used in the process of converting natural gas, coal or biomass into clean-burning liquid fuels, such as sulfur-free diesel (GTL, CTL and BTL processes respectively). However, conventional FT technologies have been unable to scale down cost-effectively to date.

Oxford Catalysts has developed high activity FT catalysts that can operate at more than 10 times the productivity of conventional catalysts. In combination with novel process technology, such as that provided by the unnamed partner, these catalysts hold the promise of delivering cost-effective small scale FT applications, at anything from 500-5,000 barrels of synthetic fuel per day.

The MOU was signed following months of testing of Oxford’s high activity FT catalysts by the partner, which included successful demonstration for more than 1,000 hours in a one gallon per day pilot unit. The agreement contemplates the supply of FT catalyst for demonstration units, ranging from several kilograms in 2008, to more than a tonne in 2009, with significant commercial volumes beyond, as the technology takes hold in this new market.

Initial development revenues to Oxford Catalysts from this MOU are estimated to be at least US$200,000 during 2008, and increasing in 2009 (pending successful trials). The project could ultimately lead to large volume supply of FT catalyst for commercial deployment through a third party manufacturer. The Company has already identified, and is working with, a major catalyst company that is well suited to scale-up the manufacture of its FT catalysts.

We are very excited about the potential for small scale FT applications, which include capturing flare gas, unlocking the vast reserves of medium sized stranded gas fields, and producing truly sustainable synthetic diesel from organic wastes. Global regulation and legislation is driving the need for small scale FT; we are very well placed to benefit from the inevitable demand.

—Roy Lipski, Chief Executive of Oxford Catalysts

In January, Oxford Catalysts signed a Strategic Alliance Agreement with Novus Energy, LLC, to develop technology for the conversion of biogas derived from organic wastes to ethanol and higher-chain alcohols. (Earlier post.)

Oxford Catalysts, a spin-off from research at Oxford University (earlier post), has two key platform technologies. The first is for a novel class of catalysts made from metal carbides which can match or exceed the benefits of traditional precious metal catalysts for applications such as HDS and FT at a lower cost.

The second platform—peroxide reaction catalysts—relates to chemical reactions involving a liquid containing a renewable fuel, such as methanol, ethanol or glycerol, and dilute hydrogen peroxide. The company’s novel catalyst can be used to release hydrogen gas from this liquid, instantaneously starting from room temperature. This Instant Hydrogen technology has the potential to significantly accelerate the commercial adoption of fuel cells in the portable and other mobile markets, according to the company.


Alex Kovnat

Natural gas lying in "stranded" areas may still be a fossil fuel (although less carbon-intensive than coal or other solids like shale), and furthermore such areas may be within the sovereign territory of another nation.

But if said nation is not unfriendly to us, it would be in our best interests to build gas-to-liquids processing facilities, even if we have to pay said nation for the use of their gas resources, for these four reasons:

1. We will reduce importation of oil from nations whose governments are hostile to our values.

2. Liquid fuels from stranded natural gas might be less carbon-intensive than coal, heavy oil or shale.

3. Using gaseous fuel substances that would otherwise be flared or allowed to escape, will reduce wasteful, unproductive discharge of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

4. Waste heat from said facilities could be used for seawater desalinization, or in other ways that are beneficial to local populations.


Anyone see a reason why our farms couldn't become energy self-sufficient by turning bio-waste into syngas and then using this process to get the liquid fuels the farm equipment needs?


Remember there is a $.54 tax on foreign ethanol. That kills import of this product into the US.

The US government: What a boondoggle!

Reality Czech

No reason, Neil, but that may not be the most efficient method.


I believe up to now FT plant costs hundreds of millions of dollars and is mainly in the hands of oil majors. It would be good if synfuel production could be localised using waste stream materials. Less pipelines, oil tankers and refineries with less terrorism and blackmail. Let's hope this idea goes places.

Henry Gibson

On a small scale, it might be a lot easier to use the biochemical processes of converting synthesis gas to ethanol by having organisims doing it. If I were running an energy corn ethanol production unit and had natural gas, I would immediatly start making synthesis gas and bubbling it through the mixture to give organisms a bit more food to produce ethanol. Carbon monoxide sensors would indicate when too much was being used. The direct addition of natural gas might even work to a limited degree with the right mix of organisms, but the Oxygen and energy of CO is needed for metabolism.. ...HG...


This is great news and definitely opens up a lot of possibilities for small scale liquid fuels production.
This is most beneficial for concepts that plan to use biomass as the feedstock. It is the specific for the processes using biomass that it has to be economical on small scale as the supply of biomass feedstock at a single point is limited.
This means that gasification without oxygen must be used, such as the Range Fuels gasification concept with external heating or even simpler concepts based on external heating. This also calls for a simple gas purification train, for instance passing the syngas through activated charcoal to remove remaining tars, sulfur compounds etc.
I can well envision a facility producing 250 bbl/day of fuel components from local biomass. The liquid product of course must be mixed with fossil oil derived fuels as a biocomponent.
The first commercial FT plants in Germany and France were of this scale - 250 to 500 bbl/day, with 16 to 24 reactors. This means about 25 bbl/day from a single reactor.


@ Henry Gibson

Using microorganisms to ferment synthesis gas or methane is definitely a bad idea. The reason for it is that anaerobic fermentation in general is very slow, thus large reactor volumes are needed; furthermore, the fermentation will be limited by the minuscule solubility of the syngas in the fermentation broth. To get an equal volume of liquid fuel it is probably sufficient with a FT reactor that is a thousand times smaller. On top of this you have got the usual problem of getting ethanol out of a very dilute solution.
Fermentation is good if you have a fermentable feedstock such as sugar that is soluble.

Reality Czech
If I were running an energy corn ethanol production unit and had natural gas, I would immediatly start making synthesis gas and bubbling it through the mixture to give organisms a bit more food to produce ethanol.
In addition to what Henric said, fermentation of syngas is done with Clostridium, which is a different organism than the yeasts sually used to ferment sugars.
Paul F. Dietz

Henrik: I am reminded of ICL's effort to make bacteria-based cattle feed from natural gas ("Pruteen"). They turned the methane into methanol first before letting the bacteria loose on it.

I suspect small scale methanol production may be the way to go. FT would likely still need expensive postprocessing after the FT reactor.


@ Paul F. Dietz

"FT would likely still need expensive postprocessing after the FT reactor."

Yes, but FT products, even wax, is much easier to transport to a finishing plant (pretty much a refinery) than the raw biomass feedstock to a centralized FT plant.

So, there would definitely be a case for small plants in the order of 10 to 100 t/day is the basic process is cheap enough.

Even better, if those systems can be made small enough to fit on a few handful of semi trailers, you could imagine them moving from crop region to crop region with the seasons.


@ Paul

Yes, I know that at some point in history there have been efforts to make food from coal/gas. Another example is edible fat from FT wax.

I doubt MeOH production is going to work on small scale. For MeOH synthesis large pressures are needed, 50 - 100 bar, which calls for a turbocompressor. On top of that large recycle ratios are used. Thus huge electricity consumption per ton of product, maybe some 500 kWh or more. On small scale you would need piston compressor which is even more uneconomical.
FT synthesis on the other hand can be done at atmospheric pressure. The crude product is distilled, and the fractions are mixed with oil products to give the final fuel formulation.
The first FT plants operated this way, at atm pressure, 50 tons per day capacity, though of course they started with metallurgical coke as the feedstock.

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