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ECP Developing Plasma-Assisted Compact Fischer-Tropsch Gas-to-Liquids System

France-based ECP is developing compact plasma-assisted gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology based on the use of a Compact Plate Reformer and high-temperature iron catalyst. ECP’s Dr. Albin Czernichowski, a professor with the University of Orleans, France, presented two papers on different aspects of the system today at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Francisco.

The proposed system uses a low-cost GlidArc plasma reactor to clean synthesis gas generated by simple gasification; the cleaned product gas is then compressed for processing by the compact plate reformer. In a press briefing at the ACS meeting, Dr. Czernichowski suggested that the cost of fuel from the system could eventually be as low as $0.50 per gallon.

Gasification processes deliver a producer gas that is not clean enough for modern applications due to the presence of residual tars. Various filtering, catalytic, and other methods have been tested giving “too complicated and expensive” and/or “not sufficient” results. Although plasma reactors can be used directly for gasification for the production of clean syngas—and ECP has developed its own such plasma gasification system, SynGen—for this application ECP is suggesting a different approach assisted by its GlidArc low-tech plasma:

  1. Gasification of any feed into as-dirty-as-possible producer gas. The main target of this step is a separation of ashes, minerals, and metals from all volatile elements and compounds.

  2. Total and selective conversion of highly-abundant tars, hydrocarbons, and other carbonaceous molecules into a supplementary amount of very clean synthesis gas using GlidArc-assisted partial oxidation. This step deals with all complex molecules and converts them into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Any initial H2 and CO in initial dirty producer gas are not attacked in the process so that more syngas exits the selective GlidArc-assisted Oxidizer.

  3. The clean and compressed syngas then flows to the Compact Plate Reactors. In the paper presented at ACS, ECP discussed a reactor tailored for local resources and a low H2/CO syngas issued from biomass gasification. Continuous runs were performed using a 5.5-L test reactor, the high-temperature iron catalyst and real syngas at H2/CO = 1.6 to 2.0 ratios.

    High-quality waxes at a high yield were obtained by this process. The sulfur-free wax analysis shows 50% mass occurrence of linear alkanes, 48% of saturated monocyclo-alkanes, and absence of polycyclic substances. Such composition is intriguing, as this type of FT product has never been described, ECP says. The resulting wax should be easily hydrocracked and resulting fuels will be an order of magnitude less toxic than conventional Diesel oil.

The compact reactor features thin catalyst grains filling the relatively narrow (up to 50 mm) and relatively short channels (up to 3 m) of the Reactive plates (R) made of a heat conducting metal. A coolant fluid crosses other neighboring metallic Heat-conducting (H) plates of a similar shape and size. The H plates are strongly tightened to the two sides of every R plate to assure a very good thermal contact between them. Dozens or hundreds of such R and H plates can be assembled in a sandwich structure supporting high-pressure syntheses.

ECP believes that iron-based FT catalysts are advantageously adapted to this plate reactor. Moreover, the Fe-based catalysts accept various syngas mixtures at much wider H2/CO molar ratios than delicate Cobalt-based catalysts.

The compact size of the reactors (about the size of a refrigerator) would enable lower cost production of synthetic fuels produced by a low-tech gasification of locally available wastes, biomass, or other resources, according to Czernichowski. Corn farming regions, for instance, could use corn stover (leaves and stalks left in the field after harvest) as the raw material. In urban areas, waste cooking oil from restaurants could be the raw material. In regions that produce biodiesel fuel, glycerol could be converted into clean fuels.

Prof. Albin Czernichowski’s press conference at ACS. Click to enlarge.




$0.50/gallon sounds good enough...though one wonders how long until then and how likely?

Creating electricity and community heat with arc plasma processing of organic refuse is already underway several places .

It seems creating electricity and heat is a more efficient use than creating liquid fuels...but I guess in both cases it comes down to cost per kilowatt hour, and what extra money they can make from hauling away your refuse.


Sounds like they have built themselves something very like an Oxford Catalysts/Velocys Micro-reactor - which has been around and patented,for a number years.
They must be aware of it?


"Corn farming regions, for instance, could use corn stover (leaves and stalks left in the field after harvest) as the raw material."

This sounds like a familiar idea. Putting biofuel plants in the farming regions so that you do not have to haul the biomass very far makes lots of sense.


These cost projections have a way of being very, very optimistic. After being disappointed so many times, I'll believe it when I see it.

That said, clean syngas may be very useful even if the FT process can't meet cost targets. Just gasifying wastes and using compressed clean syngas instead of hydrogen as motor fuel or a substitute for natural gas would be worth quite a bit in avoided tipping fees.


I would say $1 per gallon would be closer to actual costs, but that is just a guess. If a dry ton of stover costs $50 and you can get 100 gallons per ton (optimistic) then just the feed stocks costs you 50 cents per gallon.

I like the idea of using plasma to clean up the gas. At that high temperature there is almost no tar left and it is being used where it is most effective. Liquid fuels are going for the value added profit, since gasoline is over $2 per gallon wholesale right now.


This device would make it extremely convenient to convert any waste or biomass in remote areas to wax (which is a non-toxic solid) that can be transported safely and simply to the refineries or stored cheaply for local use later on. Even for local use, any (dirty-burning) waste can be transformed to easy-storable clean-burning wax.


They have probably assumed that domestic and industrial garbage mountains are free and that many cities would even pay $40+ tonne to get rid of it.

All major cities could supply enough garbage for one ot two large size gasification plants.

Using unwanted garbage and wastes to produce useful gas or liquid fuels is a worthwhile investment.


The view that you will just scoop up landfill garbage and turn it into fuel may be a stretch for this application. They are using conventional gasification at the front end and since the garbage was not sorted, all kinds of toxic products can be produced.


SJC, what toxic products do you have in mind ?
Any organic molecule is completely destroyed in the plasma. Even dioxins are completely converted to syngas. Any heavy metals remain in the ash.
The periodic table is a limited list. There are almost no toxic atoms in the gas phase and they are extremely rare in garbage.

A simple finetuning of the process makes it easy to convert part of the biomass to biochar, in order not to deplete the soils (and even enrich them).

If heavy-metal concentrating trees (like some recently produced poplar trees) are converted to wax, the concentrated cadmium in the ash can be recovered and sold, while cleaning contaminated soil or water and producing biofuel.


Methane from land fills is so dirty that it is not economical to bring it up to pipeline grade. So now you want to use trash at the input and use regular gasification and then plasma. It is at the regular gasification stage where you run into problems.


Current and future garbage-wastes could be sorted for various usages.

Existing garbage mountains could be torched and may produce enough energy to keep the torches going.


If you use pure plasma for the whole operation, there is less of a problem. Conventional gasifiers become contaminated when using an inconsistent feed stock.

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