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UC Riverside researchers receive two grants to advance steam hydrogasification reaction for waste-to-fuels

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The steam hydrogasification reaction is one component of a three-step process for the production of fuels. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CERT) at the Bourns College of Engineering have received two grants to further explore a steam hydrogasification process they developed to convert waste into fuels. (Earlier post.)

A $650,000 grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) extends its commitment to $2 million to CERT for the patented steam hydrogasification reaction (SHR), which can turn any carbonaceous material into transportation fuels or natural gas. The CEC grant will allow for the completion of a process demonstration unit at CERT that will provide data needed before a proposed pilot plant is built at the city of Riverside’s waste water treatment facility.

The second grant, for $100,000 from the UC Discovery Program, which pairs industry and university research to boost the California economy, will connect CERT researchers with Irvine-based Food Recycle Science Corporation, which has developed a process to turn food waste into a concentrated biomass. The biomass will be evaluated as a feedstock for CERT’s steam hydrogasification reactors. Initial testing has found the concentrated biomass is 10% more efficient than other biomass feedstocks evaluated, said Sean Lee, the CEO of Food Recycle Science.

Hydrogasification has been used since the 1930s as a method of making methane gas from coal. CE-CERT’s patented breakthrough was adding steam and high pressure to the process, making a slow carbon conversion reaction ten times faster.

The steam hydrogasification reaction, which CERT engineers began developing in 2005, has been found to be 12% more efficient, with 18% lower capital costs, compared to other mainstream gasification technologies when evaluated by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NREL) of the US Department of Energy.

The process has high carbon conversion rates at lower temperatures, and can be used to make numerous liquid transportation fuels (i.e., diesel, gasoline, jet) at low cost. The reaction can be used with mixed fuel stocks, including agricultural byproducts, waste wood, municipal wastes and sewage sludge. The optimal plant size can be smaller because of the lower capital investment needed. This means smaller fuel plants can be located near sources of feedstocks, reducing the cost and carbon emissions released by transportation of fuel stocks.

The grant from the California Energy Commission will allow for the evaluation of new feedstock sources, including algae, which can be readily grown at waste water treatment plants, and the concentrated biomass produced by the Food Recycle Science process.

Another goal is to produce synthetic natural gas from a mix of biomass, food waste, and biosolids as a renewable replacement for natural gas found in the earth and sea.

CERT engineers project that substantial synthetic natural gas could be gasified out of the carbonaceous wastes produced annually in California. They estimate that more than 132 trillion cubic feet of synthetic natural gas could be produced in the state. That could replace 5.5% of natural gas found in the earth and sea with a renewable resource.

If successful, the process could also cut greenhouse gases released by the burning of natural gas by an estimated 10.5 million tons each year. Just as importantly, estimates show that synthetic natural gas can be produced for nearly half the current price of natural gas, reducing the annual price tag by $606 million.

Food Recycle Science (FRS) has developed a proprietary process, eCorect, for the hydrothermolytic decomposition of food wastes. The process and steam hydrogasification reaction are environmentally “closed,” meaning they produce no methane or carbon emissions and therefore no global-warming-producing greenhouse gases.

The FRS process is already in use at more than 130 restaurants and food handling facilities. Up until now, the Highly Concentrated Organic (HCO) biomass it produces has been discarded.

Food Recycle Science and CERT researchers will work to integrate the two technologies during the next year. Their first goal is to evaluate the optimum moisture content and particle size of the feedstock. They will then measure the carbon conversion efficiency of the process in CERT laboratories.

Using lab experiments and computer simulations, the final step will be to calculate the economic return of the production of different energy types—including synthetic diesel, natural gas, or electricity—that can be produced by the process.

Resources

Comments

Engineer-Poet

This has cleverness written all over it.

There's no legend on the black arrows on the mass-energy balance (PDF, page 7) so I'm not sure exactly what they mean, but if the process can handle almost any input (shades of Changing World Technologies) this eliminates many of the issues which have tripped up previous efforts.

The one thing I would do is replace the F-T step (which requires further processing for the F-T wax) with methanol synthesis. California could go back to the M85 alternative fuel of the 1980's, but made from crop waste and trash instead of natural gas.

Herm

what was that process that converted turkey offal into diesel?.. the one that failed upscaling spectacularly...

Engineer-Poet

It didn't fail upscaling, it failed to get the policy changes expected after Mad Cow so it had to pay to get feedstock instead of receiving tipping fees.

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