University of South Florida Spinout Targeting FT Jet Fuel from Biomass with New Catalyst and Process
A spinout from work at the University of South Florida is developing a new Fischer-Tropsch-based (FT) process to produce hydrocarbon transportation fuels—initially jet fuel—from biomass.
Instead of using an iron catalyst as in conventional FT systems, COSI Catalysts Inc. has developed a new cobalt silica-supported eggshell design catalyst. Cobalt has a higher affinity towards long-chain paraffinic product than iron and shows far less attrition, and it thus more suitable for the production of desired liquid fuel fractions and a longer catalytic active life, COSI says. In addition, while iron-based catalysts produce carbon dioxide as a by-product, cobalt-based systems produce mostly water as a by-product thus, a greener, more sustainable, benign.
COSI has engineered its catalyst to be tunable via variation in the thickness of the eggshell, generating a highly selective product. The catalyst is produced using a novel process that offers precise control of the weight loading of the active metal zone which selectively converts synthesis gas to gasoline, diesel or jet fuel with very little separation.
COSI says that the selectivity can be narrowed to a fine degree, resulting in no additional unit operations (e.g. distillation) being required for refining the raw product. This would result in a saving in biomass-to-liquids (BTL) plant fixed and operating costs. COSI also notes that the eggshell design reduces the cost of metal loading by approximately 50% over current technologies.
The catalyst is flexible with regard to synthesis gas composition and is resistant to attrition and poisoning. The COSI reactor design takes care of the generated heat, reducing the risk of sintering and plugging due to carbon formation.
Currently, the technology is at bench scale. A cobalt eggshell catalyst was developed, and used in an optimized bench scale reactor to convert syngas generated from sawdust into condensable hydrocarbons. COSI has discussed a pilot plant reactor design, and has performed pressure drop calculations. The next step is to model the reaction on MATLAB and COMSOL to assess material and energy balance across the system.
COSI Catalysts was among a group of 15 projects named as semi-finalists in the 2010 Global Venture Challenge at Oakridge National Laboratory last week. The team subsequently placed as finalists at the event.
The next step for COSI would be the construction of a pilot scale plant, using a licensed third party gasification unit (Pearson Biomass Reformer), at an estimated total cost of $3 million of which about $1.8 million would be capital expenditures.
COSI Commercialization Plan (for the 2010 Global Venture Challenge)