USDA provides $91M loan guarantee to Cool Planet for biogasoline blendstock plant; biomass pyrolysis and catalytic conversion
|Gas chromatography comparison of Conoco fuel and a Conoco-CoolPlanet blend. Cool Planet’s biogasoline blendstock is 100% compatible with pump gasoline. Source: Cool Planet. Click to enlarge.|
USDA has reached an agreement with Silicon Valley Bank to provide a $91-million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee to Cool Planet to help the company finish construction on an advanced biofuel plant at the Port of Alexandria in Louisiana. (Earlier post.)
Cool Planet has devised a biomass-to-liquids thermochemical conversion process that simultaneously produces liquid fuels and sequesterable biochar useful as a soil amendment. The Cool Planet plant will produce approximately 8 million to 10 million gallons of high-octane, renewable gasoline blendstocks (reformate), as well the biochar, all made from sustainable wood residues.
Often referred to as a “drop-in” fuel, reformate is an ingredient in gasoline and jet fuel that can be added during the regular refinery process. Reformate enhances the energy content of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel; biofuels such as ethanol are fuel additives that are instead blended into a finished product to oxygenate fuel. Pine chips will be the feedstock source for the Cool Planet facility, but the company can use almost any type of renewable cellulosic material.
Cool Planet’s patented technology comprises three main components:
Biomass Pyrolysis: Hemi-cellulosic or lignocellulosic biomass is processed through a mechanical biomass fractionating system that uses pressure and heat to create streams of useful hydrocarbon components (bio-oil or pyrolysis oil). Cool Planet’s sources of biomass include corn stover, wood chips, and fast growing, non-food energy crops such as miscanthus.
A precise amount of ground biomass is fed into a moving tray; at the first heating and processing stage, the function is to drive off entrapped water, and to perform the first step of de-hydration of the biomass while mechanically compacting it for more effective heat transfer at later stages of processing.
The processing stages rotate or use a shuttle drive from step to step; the biomass is progressively heated and mechanically compacted from an initial stage temperature of 150 ˚C. As each of the following stages heat and compress the biomass, it will outgas commercially viable bio-intermediary compounds that are then taken off to catalytic reaction chambers.
At each successive processing stage, the biomass is heated to a higher temperature profile and the material is compacted to a thinner layer with an increasing level of elemental carbon in the remaining biomass. The processing stations thus produce both volatile and non-volatile components when heated.
Because the material can be heated within a relatively narrow temperature range, the non-volatile component (i.e., the partially formed char) has additional volatile components embedded within, which are extractable and processed in subsequent processing stations. The output of these processing stations is connected to an array of catalysts.
Catalytic Conversion: The catalysts are selected from the group of dehydration catalysts; aromatization catalysts; and gas-upgrading catalysts to produce different types of renewable fuel. The chemical compounds from biomass decomposition are routed to these distinct catalyst chains to produce products containing renewable, pure HC fuels and other value added products.
The main catalysts are proprietary modified ZSM-5 catalysts. The output from each catalytic array when cooled is comprised of volatile gases, renewable fuel and water. The volatile gases are programmed to pass through subsequent catalytic columns. Depending on the temperature (300 ˚C to 600 ˚C) of the processing stations and the biomass composition, the volatile components from any given processing station can be channeled through one or more catalysts using program selector switches.
One of the catalytic conversion processes creates the high-octane gasoline blendstock.
Carbon Capture: Once the useful components for fuel have been removed, the biofractionation captures the leftover plant matter in a solid carbon form called biochar. This excess carbon is highly porous and has beneficial water and nutrient retaining capabilities. By creating renewable fuel and sequestering the biochar in the ground as soil enhancer, Cool Planet permanently removes atmospheric CO2 for hundreds of years.
Cool Planet has already built a 200,000 gallon per year pilot plant using this process and demonstrated in laboratory studies that biochar generated using this process can exhibit excellent soil amendment properties. Fuel produced from the pilot plant has been fleet-tested in a blend formulation in several standard configuration automobiles. The Cool Planet process is widely tunable in the produced biochar/fuel ratio.
Cool Planet broke ground on the facility at the Port of Alexandria earlier this year. Site preparation and detailed engineering design work is currently underway, and the company expects to start construction before the end of the year. Construction of the initial plant is expected to be completed by the end of 2015 with commercial operations beginning in early 2016.
In addition to USDA’s contribution, Cool Planet has attracted private investments from numerous companies, including Google Ventures; BP; ConocoPhillips; GE; Exelon; and NRG Energy. Cool Planet will be contributing $50 million in equity to the project.
Another benefit of Cool Planet’s facility is that it will produce biochar (CoolTerra), a bioenergy byproduct that has been noted for its ability to sequester carbon and potentially reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.
In a recent field trial testing the effectiveness of CoolTerra on high-value strawberry crops, CoolTerra increased production by 56% with normal watering levels and with 40% less fertilizer. In recent turf grass trials with a municipality, CoolTerra enabled water use to be cut in half while improving the overall appearance of the lawns.
Early last month, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA had issued a conditional commitment on a $105-million loan guarantee to Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels, LLC to build a biorefinery in Nevada to produce renewable jet fuel from municipal solid waste. (Earlier post.)
USDA’s loan commitment to Cool Planet is being financed from the remainder of the Biorefinery Assistance Program funds authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. An additional project financed from these funds will be announced later this month. Congress reauthorized and extended the program in the 2014 Farm Bill. It also expanded the program to include bio-based renewable chemicals and bio-based product manufacturing.
USDA has awarded conditional commitments for other plants in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Oregon. Sapphire Energy has paid off its USDA loan for a plant now operating in New Mexico.
Cool Planet Energy Systems and the Production of Carbon Negative Fuels (Mike Rocke, AIChe 2013 Spring Meeting)