Florida Syngas converts glycerin

By Jerry W. Kram
Synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide produced by the thermal decomposition of organic matter, can be used for many applications if it can be produced economically. John Sessa, president and chief executive officer of Florida Syngas LLC, thinks he has such a system that uses the ubiquitous and low-cost byproduct of biodiesel production: glycerin.

Most pyrolysis processes use a tremendous amount of heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose organic matter into its basic components, Sessa said. Florida Syngas uses a much different process that uses carefully calibrated amounts of oxygen to partially oxidize glycerin into syngas. The key to this new method is converting the reactants into high-temperature electric plasma and reforming them with a proprietary high-temperature catalyst. "Through the proper mix of air, glycerin and electricity, we create an electric arc plasma," Sessa said. "The material itself is part of the energetic plasma."

Sessa pointed out that this process is also different from using plasma torches to pyrolize biomass into syngas. He said the process is 90 percent efficient in extracting energy from the glycerin. "Because of our methodology, we don't need a whole lot of electricity," he said. "We will be feeding back about 10 percent of the energy we create to the reaction chamber to keep our process running." The process requires crude glycerin to be partially refined because sodium and other salts will degrade the unit's catalyst.

The combination of glycerin and oxygen releases heat that is used to support the continuing reaction. In larger units, excess heat can be extracted for combined-heat-and-power production. The syngas can be sent to a standard gas turbine or fuel cells to generate electricity, burned for industrial heat or sent through a Fischer-Tropsch process to create synfuels.

Florida Syngas has an order for 10 one-megawatt generators from Advent Power Systems Inc. based on Florida Syngas' systems. The company is looking for others to test the beta version of its system. Sessa said development of a commercial-scale system is underway. "We are not to the point where we have a ‘push the red button and it starts' system," he said. "We are probably a year away from a field-ready product. We are probably nine months away from a beta unit. We have several folks ready to be the beta site." The system will be initially marketed to biodiesel companies as a method for reducing their plants' energy costs.