Canadian company completes DME to green gasoline testing

By Bryan Sims | December 01, 2011

Toronto-based CORE BioFuel Inc. successfully completed testing the final stage of its wood-to-biogasoline process via catalytic conversion of dimethyl ether (DME) with contract partner RECAT Technologies Inc., a commercial spin-off of the University of Western Ontario, into benzene-free, 94-octane green gasoline, what is to date the remaining noncommercialized step in CORE’s patent-pending process.

Specifically, CORE is commercializing a patent-pending variant of ExxonMobil’s methanol-to-gasoline process, trademarked the Melnichuk-Kelly-Stanko Fuel Synthesis Process (MKS Process). According to Don Sigler, chief financial officer of Core BioFuels, the company modified the process by incorporating advanced direct gasification modules developed by Energy Products of Idaho, which create an exothermic reaction for sufficient electricity and steam to power the process. Additionally, Sigler said, CORE further improved the process by eliminating the methanol step entirely. According to him, the company devised a route that can effectively and efficiently produce biogasoline straight from DME via a robust zeolite-based catalytic reaction without the need for further upgrading to meet retail pump 92-octane requirements.

“What we’ve done is taken off-the-shelf, commercialized equipment all the way to the DME stage,” Sigler told Biorefining Magazine. “We’re a bankable, insurable and marketable process because we’re using known equipment.”

In addition, the MKS Process does not produce any toxic waste products. Process byproducts include distilled water, which can be recycled back into the process or sold for industrial use or, when remineralized, irrigation, or released into the watershed; carbon dioxide, which can be captured for industrial use such as soda manufacturing; and inert ash that can be sold for soil enhancement or remineralizing water for irrigation.

Detailed engineering and design of the company’s conversion platform is underway in what Sigler calls a “virtual pilot” in preparation for the construction of CORE’s first demonstration-scale biorefinery, slated to be located in Houston, British Columbia. The biorefinery, expected to break ground mid-2012 and be in operation by the end 2013, is anticipated to produce approximately 18 million gallons of gasoline and 6.5 million gallons of distilled water. At a capital cost of about $108 million, Sigler said current projections suggest its first and subsequent biorefineries can produce drop-in biogasoline at about $1.44 per gallon, without subsidies.  

“We’ve got some minor testing yet to do,” Sigler said, adding that going straight to demonstration-scale over building a pilot plant was a logical decision for the company’s scale-up strategy. “The reason that we elected to not build a multimillion dollar pilot plant is because you’re not really proving anything if you use commercialized or known equipment,” he said. “Our theory was to take known equipment where the manufacturers all know what comes out of their equipment.”

Sigler said CORE is looking to take advantage of British Columbia’s abundant supply of woody biomass, adding that about 255,000 tons of wood would be required to satisfy the output volume of its future biorefinery. He said CORE can produce nearly 70 gallons of gasoline from 1 ton of wood biomass.  

“The supply of waste timber and beetle-killed timber in British Columbia is phenomenal,” Sigler said. “To put it in perspective, it’s estimated that there’s 500 million tons of beetle-killed timber in British Columbia right now, and we’ll use 255,000 of that. We’re just a drop in the bucket.”