Probably, and it is rushing to a sure thing. The news broke that Byogy Renewables has licensed the methane to liquid fuels technology from Texas Engineering and Experiment Station (TEES), a part of Texas A&M University.

Byogy Process Chart

Byogy Process Chart

The Byogy process is a stack of processes starting with pre-treating the “energy crop” such as municipal waste in the Byogy plan. Then the crop is fed to a fermentation process or the waste is headed on to gasification. From fermentation the main products go on to the thermo chemical process with the leavings like minerals, water and carbon products recycled back in and hard residuals passed on to the gasification process.

The gasification process outputs hydrogen, syngas and likely CO to forward on to the thermo chemical process. Gasification uses heat and Byogy plans to channel the used available heat back into the fermentation output stream preheating the feedstock.

That’s comparatively usual processing stacked on one the other. But the great idea is in the thermo chemical process, a result of Dr. Ken Hall an associate director at TEES and his colleagues, Professors Mark Holtzapple and Sergio Capareda.

ECLAIR Process Chart

ECLAIR Process Chart

The fermentation process looks to be headed to a methane output for the Ethylene from Concentrated Liquid-phase Acetylene – Integrated, Rapid and Safe or “ECLAIRS.” This process is an innovation in that the methane is reformed up to first acetylene, then adding back in the hydrogen to get to ethylene in the liquid state. From there the ethylene is oligomerized up to gasoline or higher such as diesel or jet fuel. With gasoline as the primary target, the yield is better that 95 octane and 25-40% aromatics at 130,000 Btu per gallon. That’s the really good stuff, better than crude oil products. Along the way other valuables can be extracted.

The innovation of liquid processing up to the ethylene state is worthy in and of itself. Then next step, olimerization has been in development since the 1970s and the oil products market just hasn’t found much use for it until now. In the TEES process a catalytic reactor receives the ethylene and converts it to carbon 5 to carbon 11 molecules with some C4 and C5 coming along too. What the catalysts offer is the quick and much safer process but also a way to adjust output by regulating temperature and pressure.

The ECLAIR has been out for a while with SynGas International licensing and offering remote natural gas fields a way to convert to liquid or simply reform methane up to easily transportable products so making the fields much more economic. SynGas looks to be closing sales for the process starting in the second half of 2008.

All this is great news if you’re determined to use heavy hydrocarbons. And there is a definite place for this. This raises some questions. Foremost is what the economics might be to process to say LPG (propane) and then reform back (or not) for markets where natural gas pricing is under pressure such as Europe. Keep in mind, the flared gas from oil production world wide each year is reported to be what France and Germany need annually.

The next question would be is about the economics of reforming to liquids and then back to methane vs. the compression and cooling to get methane transportable outside of a pipe. Is this a better cheaper way to make the methane market more stable?

Lastly is the question of long-term practical use. When fuel cells get to low cost pervasive availability there will a market for methane and methanol fuels. The first process for methane to feed the thermo chemical process is of itself a worthwhile process that deserves more consideration. Methanol in the short term is also a gasoline extender that may well have available market from a much wider base of “energy crops” beyond corn and sugarcane.

One thing is looking more certain now. Some Gasprom types have been quoted as thinking that $1.00 per cubic foot of gas is coming.

I wouldn’t bet on that. Methane and methanol are just way too easy to find and/or make.

Byogy is offering that there gasoline product can be made for $1.70 to $2.00 per gallon. That would pull oil way below $100 per barrel to be competitive.

Please check the links – there is a lot more to this than a blog post can cover.


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