Martin Linck, Ph.D. a scientist at the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) reported to the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) a new process for converting municipal waste, algae, corn stalks and similar material direct to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.  It’s a report not to be taken lightly, the GTI is a nonprofit energy technology research organization whose accomplishments during the last 70 years include nearly 500 products, 750 licenses and more than 1,200 associated patents.

The new process is showing the same promise in larger plants as it did in laboratory-scale devices.  Linck said GTI has licensed the technology called IH2 to CRI Catalyst Company (CRI), in Houston, Texas (a GTI financial supporter). CRI has exclusive sub-licensing rights to the process and is working with multiple customers wishing to build several demonstration units that can convert between 40 and 200 tons of biomass a day.

GTI’s IH2 Collage. Click image for the largest view,

GTI anticipates full-scale commercial plants converting 2,000 tons a day will be operating by 2014. Such a plant could produce more than 300,000 gallons of fuel a day, if the larger scale plants operate at the same efficiency as the pilot plants.

The prime driver for the amazingly fast commercial launch is assessments by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., the technology has the capability to produce gasoline at a cost of less than $2.00 per gallon.

Linck said, “These results are essential in establishing the credibility of a process that may seem too good to be within the realm of possibility.  However, we are moving steadily toward having multiple demonstration-scale facilities in operation by 2014, with each facility producing a range of 3,500-17,500 gallons of fuel a day from non-food plant material. We will be designing commercial-scale facilities that could produce as much as 300,000 gallons per day from the same kinds of feedstocks.”

The technology is named Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion or IH2.

IH2 technology is now the leading technology using internally generated hydrogen and a series of proprietary catalysts, which jump-start chemical reactions that otherwise would happen slowly or not at all. The process uses as its raw material, or feedstock, virtually any kind of nonfood biomass material – including wood, cornstalks and cobs, algae, aquatic plants and municipal solid waste – and produces gasoline, jet fuel or diesel fuel.

The big difference from other biofuel technologies is producing a finished, ready-to-use liquid hydrocarbon fuel, rather than crude intermediate substances like synthesis gas or synthesis oil; or substances that contain unwanted oxygen like the alcohols methanol, ethanol and butanol, which in some cases be further processed and upgraded to meet specifications for transportation fuels.

Linck cited other advantages of the IH2 technology, including flexibility to use a broad range of feedstocks and mixtures of feedstocks from different sources; the use of existing technology and equipment, which keeps its cost low; and production of 90% less greenhouse gas per gallon than fossil fuels.

The process does not require external hydrogen gas since it produces its own directly from the biomass feed – a key advantage because most hydrogen gas today is made from natural gas or coal.

The commercial launch is based on two GTI operating pilot plants that test and refine the process.  The smaller plant has a capacity of just one pound of biomass per hour, and can produce 72-157 gallons of fuel per ton of dry, ash-free feedstock, depending on feedstock type. The second plant can handle more than 100 pounds of biomass per hour and is designed to operate continuously, like a commercial facility.

Diesel is about 7 pounds per gallon making the low range a 500+ pound exchange from a ton for a 1:4 weight ratio.  Ethanol from corn is about 6.5 pounds per gallon or about 20 pounds from a 56 pound bushel of corn for about a 1:3 weight ratio.  The energy content ratio of 1.61:1 pushes the IH2 technology ahead of ethanol.

Linck’s ACS presentation focused on experimental descriptions and yield data, demonstrating that the performance of the larger continuously operated plant is in line with results obtained of the smaller plant.

Linck winds up the ACS press release saying, “Full commercial scale will be dependent on client location and feedstock specifics. Our preliminary engineering estimates are using 2,000 tons per day of feedstock, but this will depend on feedstock type. For example, municipal solid waste plants may be smaller, and plants converting wood may be larger.”

One can only imagine the groans across the corn and oil business as the news spreads.  The ethanol business started more than two decades ago as a way to put some profit back into a massively productive American agriculture industry.  But a growth explosion took place in the just the last decade growing to more than 10% of the U.S. gasoline market.

If IH2 can scale, and there is every reason to think it can just like corn ethanol, a thousand 300K-gallon plants would just about terminate crude oil based gasoline market share in the U.S.


6 Comments so far

  1. roseland67 on August 21, 2012 9:15 AM

    @ questions come to mind here.

    What is the energy input required for energy gained thru this process?

    What do the emissions contents from the process contain?

  2. Al Fin on August 21, 2012 9:37 AM

    Roseland’s questions are essentially irrelevant. If the process is economically profitable and competitive, all important questions of EROEI have already been answered within the larger framework of the extensive economic considerations.

    Emissions would be slightly cleaner than those of the fuels IH2 would be replacing, but not much — almost the same in other words.

    It would be nice if people were educated rather than indoctrinated in schools these days. Perhaps then they could ask better questions.

  3. Al Fin on August 21, 2012 5:21 PM

    I should apologise for jumping to conclusions about roseland’s underlying intent without sufficient evidence.

    The EROEI cult that is so popular in peak oil circles has made me overly sensitive to even innocent comments about energy input and output balances.

    Brian, I would like to see you do an article about EROEI sometime, just to get your perspective as someone who has to balance the chaos of real world conditions — climate, markets etc. — with regard to making a living. I suspect that EROEI is submerged within the much larger picture for most of what you have to consider.

    The IH2 process happens to be one of my favourite bio-energy topics of interest. I’m glad to see it getting some attention at the top levels.

  4. roseland67 on August 21, 2012 8:33 PM

    Al Fin,
    No political ax to grind, no educational indoctrination either, I’m retired.
    Are the energy produced and the emissions expelled better or worse than existing oil refinery? (Hope so, but I don’t know).
    If better, the environmental side of the argument will have less to be concerned about.
    If more, the economics of this process will
    will, (probably), make this concern mute.
    Either way, I will continue to follow the story, just like Focardi/Rossi, LIion batterys, OPOC engines, Tesla motors etc. It’s what interests me.

  5. Al Fin on August 21, 2012 10:38 PM

    roseland: They are only at the pilot plant stage, so there is no simple answer to either question. The $2 a gallon estimate is not to be taken seriously at this stage.

    But if that estimate were to prove out, it should tell you a lot about the energy balance of the process, without needing to mention joules or watt seconds.

    The pollution emissions from the fuel itself should be better with IH2 produced fuels. CO2 emissions from burning either fuel would be roughly equivalent.

    When you look at emissions or energy output, you are looking at moving targets that change over time. Rather than looking at a number, you are instead looking at a solution to a differential equation with changing inputs.

    That’s the problem with the EROEI fixation. Peak oilers think they can look at a number for EROEI and determine whether a fuel or a process can be economically successful. But that is not the case.

  6. Relevant EAM CMMS, Cable, and Lodging News for 8-24-12 on August 27, 2012 10:54 AM

    [...] Biomass to Biofuel Breakthrough Goes Commercial Posted on New Energy and Fuel covers a new report on a new process for converting municipal waste, algae, and other feed stock directly into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. [...]

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