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Oxford Catalysts Reports Microchannel Biomass-to-Liquids FT Pilot at Güssing Showing 4-8x Greater Productivity Than Conventional Systems

Oxford Catalysts Group PLC, reported that its microchannel reactor Fischer-Tropsch (FT) pilot unit is achieving good performance in phase one of the demonstration at Güssing (earlier post) and that it remains on track to secure a commercial order upon completion of the technical milestones.

The company said that the operations are demonstrating the very significant process intensification potential of its microchannel FT technology, as the unit is already producing more than 0.75 kg of FT liquids per liter of catalyst per hour—some 4 to 8 times greater productivity than conventional systems. Performance will improve further after the steam superheating section of the plant is debottlenecked at the next scheduled shutdown.

The FT demonstration, which is being managed by SGC Energia, SGPS, S.A. (SGCE), has been fully operational for a month, with the Group’s FT unit working at its full capacity of more than 900 commercial-length microchannels, and with the Güssing gasifier, the gas conditioning unit and Group’s FT unit all operating smoothly together.

The plant, with full length process and coolant channels, uses gasified woodchips from the existing Güssing gasifier as a feedstock. Achievements to date include:

  • Near isothermal reactor temperature profile;
  • Pressure drop as expected;
  • High quality synthetic fuel is being produced (alpha value >0.9);
  • Robust responsiveness to shutdowns and start-ups.

Going forward, the demonstration will be operated over a wide range of conditions, as well as for an extended steady-state run of some three months.

As the managing company in charge of the Güssing demonstration, SGCE is very pleased with the initial performance. We remain on track to place a commercial order upon completion of the technical milestones, initiating worldwide commercialization of the Group’s FT technology.

—Vianney Vales, CEO of SGCE

Oxford Catalysts is primarily focused on the emerging market for distributed smaller scale production of synthetic fuels via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis—a market that has the potential of producing as much as 25 million barrels of fuel a day.

SGCE is a Portuguese incorporated holding company that acts as the investment arm of João Pereira Coutinho, a well known Portuguese entrepreneur, in the renewable energy sector. Coutinho, through his holdings, is involved in the production of conventional biofuels and the development of next-generation bio and synthetic fuel technologies, as well as the supply of complex integrated solutions for the production of alternative energy.

Coutinho’s activities in the sector include the operation of a 125,000 ton/yr biodiesel production facility, the establishing of more than 30,000 ha of biomass energy crops in Africa, and, with partners, the development and demonstration of gasification, syngas cleanup, and syngas-to-liquids technologies. SGCE is owned by João Pereira Coutinho and his SGC Group. SGC Group is active in 13 countries and has an annual turnover of more than €1 billion.

SGCE has already secured the host site and initiated engineering activities for its first commercial synthetic fuels facility. Following successful demonstration at Güssing and completion of the technical milestones, SGCE intends to place its first commercial order with the Group.

Güssing, in South Burgenland, Austria, is a pioneering “eco-town” of around 10,000 people. It produces its entire heat, power and fuel requirement from local renewable materials, such as wood, sourced from within a 5 km radius. Since 2005, a power station based on gasification of wood chips has operated in the town, with an output of 4.5 MW heat and 2 MW electricity, for domestic and industrial consumers. The biomass gasifier at this facility will also be used to supply synthesis gas for conversion to fuels via the Group’s Fischer-Tropsch (“FT”) demonstration unit.



Since we consume more and more energy, it is very doubtful that bio-mass can produce the majority of the energy that we consume. An average all electric home consumes as much as 3 to 4 mid-size BEVs would. Assuming 30 Kwh/day for an all electric residence and 10 Kwh/day per BEV, a family of 4 with 4 BEVs would use about 80 Kwh/day. All other goods and services used by this typical family may require almost as much energy as the residence + BEVS.

Bio-mass could replace some of the crude oil used but other energy sources like Nuclear, Solar, Wind etc are required. Coal and NG are interim non-sustainable sources.

Most of the fertile land may be required to feed an increasing population. Anywhere over 10 or 12 billions may need most of it.

We could also find ways to consume a lot less energy. Ultra high efficiency heat pumps could be used for hot water + heat + cooling. Together with the use of LED lighting + low energy consumption PCs and TVs and appliances, residential energy foot print could be reduced by 50% to 70%.


There are huge amounts of 'waste' that should be transformed into liquid fuels. Evidently, any energy use that can be electric, should be electric, using wind, solar, nuclear... But if we do this, there is more than enough 'organic waste' to produce all the liquid fuel we may need to power airplanes, range-extenders, and the plastics we need.
Gigatons of 'waste-wood' can also be produced in ecological high-value woods where wood is harvested in sound ways.
The efficiency of FT-synthesis can be massively increased if renewable H2 is added (produce H2 with all the waste-electricity of peak-renewable overproduction).

If these modular distributed systems can provide economical means of transforming distributed biomass (or any organic waste) to liquids, it will be truely revolutionar.


"..some 4 to 8 times greater productivity than conventional systems." sounds (too?) good..


Depends how one measures productivity and with which version FT process one compares.


They need 1 litre of catalyst per .75Kg of production? that sounds like more catalyst than synthetic fuel. What the heck is the catalyst? What's the EROIE? What's the estimated dollar cost per unit gallon of fuel?

I'm wary of the sustainability of biomass programs. There's a reason farmers plow the cellulose back into the ground.

I'd still like to see cellulosic biobutanol get some level of relevance while we're amortizing the ICE fleet. Photovoltaic and BEV is a much better and more sustainable land use.


Actually solar thermal makes better use of land than solar voltaic.


Saying that biomass can't supply all our energy needs is accurate, but it misses the significance of the posted article. It not about biomass, it's about microchannel reactors for FT synthesis of fuel. The particular source of synthesis gas reported happens to be biomass, but the significance is in the compact size and demonstrated high productivity of the FT reactor.

The usual approach to economic productivity in chemical synthesis plants is large size, to capture "economies of scale". That's OK for oil refineries or for large-scale FT synthesis from gasified coal (a la South Africa's Sasol), but for FT synthesis from gasified biomass, it sucks. For BTL synthesis, one needs small processing plants that can operate close to the source, reducing transport costs. Microchannel reactors are a good fit for that. They achieve economic productivity from mass production of small units. They achieve high product productivity through the favorable surface-to-volume ratios and superior heat transfer characteristics of small reaction channels.

Regarding "1 litre of catalyst per .75Kg of production", there's an all to typical journalistic misstatement and misunderstanding of dimesions. It should really say something like ".75Kg of production per minute", or some other time period. I'm guessing it should be minutes, because .75Kg per second sounds too high, and .75Kg per hour sounds too low for production rate from that that amount of catalyst. In any case, it't production rate they should be talking about, not production.

Catalysts -- by definition -- are not consumed in the chemical reactions they facilitate. But the more catalyst exposed to the reagents, the higher the production rate. They do degrade over time, however, and eventually need to be replaced.

End of chemistry lesson.


I forgot to mention the most interesting and likely market-leading application of these chemical reactors. The military wants them. In the worst way. (And you can take "worst way" however you like.)

DARPA has an RFP for studies toward development of modular nuclear reactors to drive synthesis of hydrocarbon fuels at military bases and on ships. They want high fuel burn-up, low waste production, and multiple years of low-maintenance operation before refueling.

The idea is to cut the long umbilical cord that ties military operations to oil supplies. They want to ultimately produce all the jet fuel and diesel they need for fighting vehicles from just air, water, and nuclear energy. For better or worse, microchannel chemical reactors like those described in this posting will be key components in allowing them to achieve that.


The most striking military advantage of these kinds of technology would be the fast elimination of the need for oil.
If crude becomes worthless and liquid fuel becomes abundant :
1. There are no more oil-dictatorships that can sponsor terrorism
2. There is no need to 'support' oil-dictators that suppress their people, and make the suppressed angry at the West.
3. There is much less rivalry between major countries for oil.

Secondly, the disruptive effects of climate change could become a major cause of future conflicts. Preventing a war is an even greater military victory than winning one.


Revenge, the quest for financial and political power, our oil addiction, religious fanaticism, control of fertile lands, waters and natural resources, money and wealth acquisition etc have all been used to justify wars and military forces.

Most causes feed on others. That seems to be the case of our on-going oil addiction vs rising religious fanaticism. Would removing the current main feed stock starve the other cause or slow it down? Maybe.

Illegal drugs and street gangs have similar feeder association. Would eliminating major causes (poverty, social misfit, genetic issues, large population displacement etc) squeeze them out of business? Maybe.

Climate changes may become future causes for conflicts. The growing differences between the rich and the poor could also become a strong reason for conflicts.

Worldwide electrification and the availability of affordable clean power, clean transport, clean water, clean air, medical care etc could do a lot towards the reduction of conflicts.


"4-8x Greater Productivity" of the F-T process could minimize oil/diesel use in heavy transport.

EVs could minimize oil/diesel use in light transport.

Numerous low/no carbon processes can generate electricity for the best economic mix.

The most striking military advantage of these kinds of technology would be the fast elimination of the need for oil. If crude becomes worthless and liquid fuel becomes abundant: ..

Being possible and being economically feasible are quite different things. Liquid fuels synthesized from atmospheric CO2, water, and nuclear energy will work for the military in the near future because economic feasibility doesn't apply. Or at least not in the same way that it applies in the "real world". The rules are different when the recipients of federal largess are aerospace corporations and military contractors.

It depends on how you do the logistics accounting, but by most reckonings, fuel for planes and vehicles deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan already costs the US in excess of $100 a gallon. So it's not hard for a nuclear fuel synthesis plant to come out looking like a bargain. Yet it's not the cost, but the qualitative difference in operational capabilities that will drive the program. Like the strategic differences that are enabled by nuclear submarines vs. the old diesel-electric variety.

There is, however, some hope that at the end of this particular rainbow, we could find the sort of peace dividend that Alain's comment suggests. In the long term, there's no reason that "nuclear gasoline" won't become cheaper than crude oil. By analogy with the development of commercial jet transportation, the military will first develop and refine the technology, after which it will migrate into the commercial sector.

That's assuming that we can avoid a collapse into war and chaos before then. Some days I'm hopeful, some days I despair.


The microchannel reactor gets its advantages from high-activity catalysts and high rates of heat removal. Conventional reactors use the catalyst in a bulk bed without very good heat transfer except to the mix being reacted; catalyst activity has to be low to avoid overheating, and lots of material has to be recycled through the bed after cooling because only a fraction can be allowed to react per pass. The microchannel reactor integrates a heat exchanger, so heat released from the catalyst channels has a very short diffusion path to a heat sink. This controls its temperature well, so a highly-active catalyst can be used without overheating and conversion per pass can be much higher.

Donough Shanahan

Except that you need an excessive amount of channels which in themselves will contain hot and cold spots. The generation of turbulence to avoid this leads to excessive compression or pumping requirements due to the large pressure drops involved. Not only that you have to get three variables (residence time; selectivity and yield) to go in sync despite for this reaction selectivity and yield have different requirements from residence time.
And then you get back to manufacturing all those channels. If they can get the 4 times they say they can then maybe it is worthwhile but what they have disclosed is not enough.


Channels can be manufatured by milling or photo-etching. If it's good enough for nuclear powerplants, it's good enough for FT reactors.


At the moment, we need much more electricity than we need liquid fuel. As we will produce ever more of this electricity with nuclear and renewables, there will also be ever more electricity at "inapropriate" times. If this 'waste' electricity is used to produce synthetic fuels, huge amounts could be produced 'almost free'.
As the price of renewable energy keeps on comming down, it will only strengthen the story.

Donough Shanahan

@ Engineer-Poet

You know that is not a valid comparison. The financials of both processes are extremely different. Shell; hell most major oil companies has been working on micro-channel reactors since the 70's and have yet to produce a viable reactor. Do a patent search.


The heterogenous chemical mixture petrochemical industry would want to put in the microchannels is something different than a mixture of CO and H2.

For this application it may be much more practical.

Donough Shanahan

In what way; what is your basis. The petrochem industry has been looking at this for styrene production which is a gas phase reaction.

Henry Gibson

There exists an interesting device that forces sodium vapour through a sodium-beta-alumina solid electrolyte to produce an electric current and voltage. Such devices could provide power for making H2 by electrolysis until the direct heat-chemical systems are operational.

No moving parts are needed and efficiency is not highly important with nuclear fission energy or 96 percent of the fuel would not be wasted in the US as it now is.

Accelerator Driven or similar lead cooled Rubbia reactors can provide high enough temperatures as can existing pebble bed reactors and their designs. ..HG..

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