The Truth about Hawaii

Why pyrolysis oil has found a home in Kapolei
| December 02, 2010

Most have heard projections that suggest energy demand will grow significantly, possibly doubling by 2030. Hawaii is sunny and lined with beaches, and most know this too. Pyrolysis oil development for transportation fuel in Kapolei, Hawaii, however, may not be known—but it needs to be. Envergent Technologies, a Honeywell Company, specializes in running a fast thermal process known as RTP. During the process, “biomass is rapidly heated to approximately 500 degrees Celsius in the absence of oxygen,” says Mark Reno, managing director. “As the biomass moves through the unit, a tornado of hot sand vaporizes it and the product is then rapidly quenched to yield 65 to 75 percent pyrolysis oil (by weight).” The result is a pourable liquid that can be used as fuel for industrial heat or electrical generation. It can also be used as a feedstock for drop-in transportation fuel, and Envergent is using a U.S. DOE grant to make it happen in Hawaii.

The company is engineering a working demonstration facility for operation by 2013, but before that, it plans to have the process for upgrading pyrolysis oil to transportation fuel perfected. The upgrade, Reno says, requires an additional refining step that looks a lot like hydroprocessing in a traditional refinery, where hydrogen is used to remove oxygen from the feedstock and the product is further isomerized (the chemical compounds are restructured) to meet the product specs sought.

There are difficulties in making this process available by the scheduled completion date, but don’t expect these plans to fade off into the sunset. “The biggest challenge in this work is to select the combination of upgrading steps that achieve the objective in a cost-effective way at this scale,” Reno says. Luckily, he points out, the chemistry is fairly straight forward.

Envergent will also have access to process technology expertise from omnipresent Honeywell UOP, in selecting the best methods to go from pyrolysis oil possibility to a transportation fuel truth on the Big Island.

—Luke Geiver