Dr. Albin Czernichowski, a professor with the University of Orleans, France, presented two papers at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco on Monday detailing a GlidArc reactor that uses electrically-charged clouds of gas called “plasmas” to produce in three steps super-clean fuels from waste materials.

Dr. Czernichowski said, “Low-tech and low cost are the guiding principles behind the GlidArc reactors. Almost all the parts could be bought at your local hardware or home supply store. We use common ‘plumber’ piping and connections, for instance, and ordinary home insulation. Instead of sophisticated ceramics, we use the kind of heat-resistant concrete that might go into a home fireplace. You could build one in a few days for about $10,000.”

Glidarc Test Reactor. Click image for more info.

The reactors are about the size of a refrigerator and custom designed to clean dirty gases produced by a low-tech gasification of locally available wastes, biomass, or other resources to produce clean mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas to synthesize biofuels.

Of the three fuel products one is a diesel fuel that releases 10 times less air pollution than its notoriously sooty, smelly conventional counterpart.  Dr. Czernichowski said, “The main advantage of such biobased fuels that the GlidArc technology can create is that they constitute “drop-in replacements” for fossil diesel oil, gasoline or kerosene, and no modifications are needed in engines, vehicles and distribution systems. The biofuels can also be used as additives to various types of engine fuels to improve certain fuel properties. Another important advantage, of course, is their much lower toxicity for mankind and the environment compared to conventional fuels.”

The technology gets it name from the use of a gliding arc of electricity to that produces a plasma inside the reactor. The plasma allows chemical reactions to occur at dramatically reduced temperatures. Gases from heating (pyrolyse or gasification) biomass or glycerol, for instance, become clean and chemically active, and this allows for the transformation of those materials into clean fuels. Note this a way to make use of the glycerol from biodiesel production.

The French company ECP is developing compact plasma-assisted gas-to-liquids technology based on the use of a Compact Plate Reformer and high-temperature iron catalyst.  Dr. Czernichowski has a role in ECP and suggested in his ACS presentation that the cost of fuel from the system could eventually be as low as $0.50US per gallon.

ECP uses a low-cost GlidArc plasma reactor to clean synthesis gas generated by simple gasification; the cleaned product gas is then compressed for processing by the compact plate reformer.

Usual gasification processes make producer gas that isn’t clean enough for modern Fischer-Tropsch applications because of a residual tar load, ash and other impurities. Various filtering, catalytic, and other methods have been tested giving complicated and expensive and inadequate results.  ECP has another approach with assistance by its GlidArc low-tech plasma.

Step one: Gasification of any feed into as-dirty-as-possible producer gas. The main target of this step is a separation of ashes, minerals, and metals from all volatile elements and compounds. “Dirty” then is as fully organic and stripped of inorganic elements as possible.

Step two: Then use the GlidArc-assisted partial oxidation for a total and selective conversion of the highly-abundant tars, hydrocarbons, and other carbonaceous molecules into a supplementary amount of very clean synthesis gas.  This step deals with all the complex molecules and converts them into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Any initial H2 and CO in initial dirty producer gas are not attacked in the process so that more syngas exits the selective GlidArc-assisted oxidizer.

Step three: The clean and compressed syngas then flows to the Compact Plate Reactors. In the paper presented at ACS, Czernichowski discussed a reactor tailored for local resources and a low H2/CO syngas issued from biomass gasification.

Dr. Czernichowski reports his continuous runs were performed using a 5.5 liter test reactor, the high-temperature iron catalyst and real syngas at H2/CO = 1.6 to 2.0 ratios.

The yields are 50% mass occurrence of linear alkanes, 48% of saturated monocyclo-alkanes, and an absence of polycyclic substances, all sulfur free.  Dr. Czernichowski notes this type of product has never been described from gasification.  The waxes should be easily hydrocracked and the resulting fuels will be an order of magnitude less toxic than conventional diesel oil.

The Compact Plate Reactors feature thin catalyst grains filling relatively narrow (up to 50 mm) and relatively short channels (up to 3 m) in the reactive plates.  Dr. Czernichowski believes the iron-based catalysts are advantageously adapted to this plate reactor. Moreover, the iron-based catalysts accept various syngas mixtures at much wider H2/CO molar ratios than delicate cobalt-based catalysts.

The reactive plates (R) are made of a heat conducting metal. A coolant fluid passes through neighboring metallic heat-conducting (H) plates of a similar shape and size. The H plates are strongly tightened to the two sides of every R plate to assure a very good thermal contact between them. Dozens or hundreds of such R and H plates can be assembled in a sandwich structure supporting high-pressure syntheses. Pass the syngas and get the fuel and wax products.

Dr. Czernichowski presented two papers Monday at The ACS meeting.  This is the link to the first abstract, “Plasma-assisted selective partial oxidation of tars and other pollutants in producer gases” (ACS 239 Paper 194) dealing with the plasma segment of the process. This is the link to the second abstract dealing with the iron catalyst, “Fischer-Tropsch products from compact reactor and high-temperature Iron catalyst” (ACS 239 Paper 91).

The EPS plan is to get a demonstration pilot plant going in Florida soon using an “old Indian technology” followed with the GlidArc and Compact Plate Reactors for a trash to fuel process.  This writer wishes the good Dr and his group the best of luck and good results.  Perhaps we’ll see the low cost plant design that makes local fuel production possible available soon.  At home built prices of $10K, even commercial units should be reasonable investments.  Just keep in mind – it takes a lot of biomass or trash to get a little high carbon atom count liquid fuel.


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