Cooking Up Some Fuel?

We’ve been on a biofuel track for some days now and just to be complete across the field of converting biomass to fuel we’re going to look at another process, one called the Syntec Process coming from Syntec Biofuel Inc. that was a spin-off from the University of British Columbia.

Please read to the end before acting on Syntec based information.

We’ve looked at the hot cooking using pyrolysis that goes to forming of crude oil headed to refining and the cold method of enzymes taking starches to sugar then on with fermentation to alcohols. In the “middle” if you will allow, is the Syntec Process that’s using heat with introduced steam and some oxygen. The advantage is the steps are reduced. The costs are yet to be demonstrated where we all can see them.

Nevertheless, the output from the process is syngas, similar to what can be chosen to come out of a pyrolysis unit. Syntec is proposing to pipe the syngas to their proprietary catalytic reformer, which makes ethanol. With control sets and plant construction obviously different from cold fermentation or very hot pyrolysis, it seems the process is headed to one solution – light alcohols – as the gaseous process adds oxygen to the output, a necessity for getting alcohols and a problem for getting petroleum.

The advantages are the feedstocks are not limited to animal and people food crops like corn or sugarcane. It just blows by the need to worry about cellulosic content like pyrolysis processes do. The key lies in the gaseous reforming, where the heat and the steam with just enough oxygen to trigger a reaction yields the CO and H2 that make up the bulk of syngas. What might be the biggest asset that Syntec has might be that their catalytic reformer already produces a mix of the light alcohols up to butanol, the best choice to feed internal combustion engines.

The catalyst, if it can be tuned might be a real breakthrough. There are large markets for methanol usually derived from natural gas at the volumes needed today. That could displace some natural gas back to home heating and other uses. The ethanol market is displacing some oil now for gasoline use and Syntec might have an advantage here. The problem might be in the distillation step that the process needs to finish the ethanol product. If the distillation is to separate the alcohols rather than ethanol from water a cost advantage might be there.

Syntec may have a major play if the catalysts and the process can be tuned to produce butanol. If butanol is tuned for and the operating costs are still under control, the full process may well have a very bright future indeed. Bring butanol with its much higher energy density and very high octane to market at a competitive price there could be huge growth in Syntec installations.

If the output can be tuned, best of all on the fly while operating, and with the wide array of possible feedstocks that gasification allows, Syntec is on to something that could be very big.

But, and a very very big BUT indeed. The firm was compelled into bankruptcy by the current president (a lawyer) who managed to get the company’s full assts in his control. The due diligence here suggests that the gaseous precursor process to the proprietary catalyst reactor is on firm ground. But the entire intellectual prowess is gone. While its stock is traded OTC there are no operating units, prototypes, or customers.

See this before taking any action: Bankruptcy of Syntec Biofuels Inc.

Keep in mind that corn ethanol is running about just < 90 gallons from a ton of corn and Syntec is claiming they’re up to 105 gallons a ton from “biomass” which could be anything organic. Coskata asserts they are up to 113 gallons a ton. Its time to show us some real due diligence quality numbers and then we might get excited. Meanwhile . . .

Lets all calm down, biofuels are coming; let’s just not let our capital get waylaid on the journey. Time will tell if Syntec cooking up fuel or something else.

Sometimes due diligence doesn’t pan out. If it weren’t for the OTC shot of buying in I would have simply blown this off like countless other things that don’t merit a post. However, its possible that Syntec might not be all the press releases, blog posts, articles and such hype make it out to be. It’s a glaring example of something, and it isn’t looking like a place to revolutionize biofuels. What the true loss today is that some promising technology doesn’t seem to be going forward. We may never know.


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