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US DOE to award up to $3M for coal-biomass-to-liquid projects

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award up to a total of $3 million to projects (1) to develop and to test novel technologies for the economical and environmentally-sustainable conversion of coal-biomass feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels (CBTL) and (2) to assess concepts and evaluate the feasibility of building and operating a commercial scale CBTL production facility.

The Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000703) for the awards is soliciting applications for R&D in two specific Areas of Interest: laboratory scale liquids production and assessment; and a feasibility study for a coal-biomass to liquids facility.

A recent National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) study indicated that addition of moderate amounts of biomass to coal for the production of liquids can substantially reduce Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) CO2 emissions relative to a petroleum diesel baseline. As an example, 20% less CO2 is produced with 8% biomass addition, with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) with CO2 utilization.

  • Laboratory Scale Liquids Production and Assessment. Projects in this area are to convert coal-biomass feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels at a rate approximating 2 liter/day or higher. For this FOA, liquid transportation fuels are defined as liquid-naphtha or diesel blends—alternative fuels such as hydrogen, methane/SNG and alcohol products are not being considered under this area of interest.

    Selected projects will be required to demonstrate liquids production on a laboratory scale from low-level biomass and coal feedstock mixtures (optimal range 8-15% agricultural biomass, dry weight % basis). The conversion approach may include direct (liquefaction) or indirect (synthesis gas FT chemistry) processes.

    Conversion via a substitute natural gas (methane) intermediate; Catalysis R&D; and co-generation with power are all excluded from consideration for this FOA.

    Applicants for the awards must define and submit in the application planned downstream processes for converting crude products to desired-range hydrocarbons. The chemical composition of the coal/biomass-derived liquids will be determined in order to assess the property differences from liquids produced from a coal-only feed.

    Applicant are also to conduct a general analysis of the comparative process economics of the evolved coal-biomass-to-liquids process relative to a coal-only process. Applicants will be required to provide finished liquid product samples (1 liter minimum) as a final deliverable under the agreement.

  • Feasibility Study for a Coal-Biomass to Liquids Facility. This area of interest seeks feasibility studies for the development, construction and operation of a US site specific, greenfield, integrated commercial sized CBTL plant. The key focus of the study will be the business development, cost estimate, and economic sensitivity analysis of a commercial facility using cost, performance and operating data from existing and available technology.

    Sensitivity studies are to include, but are not limited to, evaluation of competing technologies, feedstock variation and product mix. Major feedstocks are limited to coal and agricultural biomass (biomass level of 8-15 dry weight % basis), with a minimum plant size of 10,000 barrels-per-day (BPD). Plant data may be obtained from published reports, commercial vendors, existing commercially-available process units or operation data from large-scale pilot plants. The study should include evaluation of various U.S. sites and sources of feedstocks.

    Deliverables from these projects are to include, but are not limited to, the following: 1) Description of the proposed facility and process, including major processing units; 2) Discussion on the technology readiness level (TRL), with a supporting preliminary process flow diagram; 3) Plant cost estimate broken down; 4) Economic sensitivity analysis which includes a summary of the major financial and project assumptions, including a sufficient break-down of the annual operating requirements and cost; and 5) Discussion of the execution plan, including but not limited to issues related to feedstock supplies, site acquisition, product off-takes, and permitting.

DOE estimates two awards for Area of Interest 1, and 2-3 awards for Area of Interest 2.



Just another study to satisfy the gallery?

Of course, it is possible to transform coal into liquid fuels. Why isn't it already done on a very large scale in USA, with plenty of coal.

China is going ahead with a few large plants.


It's only $3M.

[ On this basis I think I'll ask for "only $1M". ]

This study will show why it isn't already done on a very large scale in USA, with plenty of coal
- it does not compete with oil (probably).

After the $3M, we'll KNOW it probably cannot compete with oil.


There is only one larger plant in the world in operation that converts coal to liquid fuels. The construction of more plants is under discussion but the technology is not well-developed yet. For biomass-to-liquid via gasification (syngas), we still have no full-scale commercial plant in operation in the world. Research in these fields is definitely motivated. Funding of R&D for biomass-to-liquid fuels is probably more cost-effective on the long-term horizon than promoting corn ethanol via economic incentives. The biomass-to-liquid production under consideration in this program have the potential to reach higher energy efficiency than any other biofuel while also expanding the feedstock base to low-cost cellulosic biomass and bio-waste. Some people might have objections for including coal in this program and I must say that I have some sympathy for those considerations.

Roger Pham

Indeed, Peter, some will have objections for including coal in this program, and I know at least one such person!

Instead of using coal, how about substituting for coal with H2 synthesized from surplus solar, wind, or nuclear electricity? Hydrogenation of waste biomass into small-chain hydrocarbons can double the energy output of a given amount of biomass. These synthetic small-chain hydrocarbons are easy to store and burn very cleanly in the new GDCI combustion mode as demonstrated by Delphi et al under DOE grant, and can stretch the future supply of synthetic fuels much further than current gasoline vehicles can.

Henry Gibson

Electric automobiles burn coal, bio-mass and natural gas indirectly and more efficiently, and if any spare elctricity is available from wind, solar or hydro, it is more efficiently stored directly into automobile batteries.

A factory, that has been operating on coal for decades in North Dakota in the USA and has been selling much of its redundant CO2 to oil fields in Canada a few hundred miles away, could be producing methanol for conversion into gasoline or DME in about a year or less with this money. It could also produce them from the the excess natural gas now being wasted by the new oil field operators nearby. It already makes many many tons of liquid ammonia from coal and the air which could be used as a fuel in ICEs right now with zero CO2 produced by the vehicle, but methanol is a cheaper and more convenient fuel.

I read about a containerized methanol mini-factory somewhere, perhaps on this site, many months ago. Even so; stirlingcryogenics can make LNG and keep it cold for transit in small or very large amounts. Capstone turbines can generate the electricity required with a large fraction of the gas now being wasted.

With vast amounts of natural gas being wasted and many oil spills that are being turned into CO2 by nature and much CO2 being released by tranporting crude oil and refining it, liquid fuels produced by Dakota Gasification will release less CO2 by using coal or natural gas than ordinary production from crude oil and it can be closely monitored and verified unlike many crude producers. The price of the raw fuel input is less than a forth of that of crude oil. Jet fuel can be produced from coal at net cost of 35 dollars a barrel according to an airline report. ..HG..


Don't forget about the CANDU Reactor and ZEBRA Batteries.


Gas to liquids has been going on for a long time. It's really most economic when you make value added chemicals though. One of the main hurdles to investment in gas to liquids is the price of oil which fluctuates. If the crude prices stay at $125 per barrel then some processes may be economical. If we have another global recession, crude prices will drop again, making any production capability in gas to liquids uneconomical. So the future economic feasibilty of gas to liquids depends a sustained economic set point for what it competes against, that being crude. Use it to make chemicals and other products, and maybe the crude price doesn't matter so much. You might think that it would be in the best interest of the country to install at least some capacity for gas to liquids, you know, as added energy security, and you might be right. But that is thinking strategically and long term. We don't do that. Perhaps a fischer-tropsh or biofuel standard of say 10% would allow for some investment in capacity.

Oh, by the way, research is just that, and should be for making breakthroughs. In theory the idea would be to improve the technology to make it more viable economically over the long term. It can be for that too, except that most companies, national labs and universities are incapable of making any meaningful contribution. They are too well managed to be innovative.

Roger Pham

Furthermore, Henry, don't forget about global warming due to excessive level of GHG, either! Don't forget that oil and NG won't last very long into the future, and that severe price fluctuation due to supply disruption will wreak havoc on the economy. Coal is very polluting.

Agree with what you said, Bk4.


"Agree with what you said, Bk4."

Me too.

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