January 09, 2009

Cellulostic Ethanol and Then Bio-syntrolysis Fuel

Second generation cellulosic ethanol pioneer Verenium has started production of ethanol from non-food sources such as wood chips, grass straw, and trash at their Jennings Louisiana demonstration plant (PDF). This is the first such plant to begin operation in the US.

The plant will produce 1.4 million gallons of ethanol a year. Although it’s not at the commercial scale yet (60+ MGY). According to the Renewable Fuels Association, there are around a dozen second generation cellulosic ethanol demonstration plants that will be opening the USA between now and 2012. Range Fuels plans on opening the first commercial scale cellulosic plant in Georgia by the end of 2009.

Greencar Congress has a report on Idaho National Labs work to bring about bio-syntrolysis which would be two to three times more efficient than cellosic ethanol.

Idaho National Lab (INL) is researching bio-Syntrolysis which would convert about 90% of the carbon in biomass to liquid synthetic fuel. Conventional biomass or coal gasification to liquid fuels converts only ~35% of the carbon to liquid fuel.

In Bio-Syntrolysis, process heat from the biomass gasifier produces the steam to improve the hydrogen production efficiency of the HTSE process, while the biomass itself is the source of the carbon. Hydrogen from HTSE allows a high utilization of the biomass carbon for syngas production, while the oxygen resulting from water splitting is used to control the gasification process. The new process is an evolution of INL’s earlier work on co-electrolysis (Syntrolysis).

Syntrolysis used high-temperature electrolysis with a solid-oxide electrolysis cell designed to take advantage of electricity from nuclear or renewable energy sources and industrial process heat to simultaneously convert water and carbon dioxide into syngas.

INL is proposing locating Bio-Syntrolysis plants regionally, close to where the biomass is grown. A 25,000 barrel (1.05 million gallon US, 3.974 million liter) per day plant for full biomass to liquid fuels would entail a capital cost of around $2 billion and an annual operating cost of $1 billion per year.

A preliminary, yet thorough economic analysis shows synthetic, liquid, no-sulphur diesel at $2.50 per gallon.

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