California company commissions compact gasification pilot plant

By Lisa Gibson
Posted November 5, 2009, at 9:30 a.m. CST

A compact gasification pilot plant in Des Plaines, Ill., will be commissioned today by developer Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR), Canoga, Calif., and its team of organizations and partners.

The plant will be located at the Gas Technology Institute and will have the capacity to consume 18 tons of blended feedstock per day, according to Jim Hartung, director of energy systems at PWR. The system will run on coal, petroleum coke-derived from oil refinery coker units and other cracking processes-and biomass, according to Hartung. "We envision using a range of biomass from corn stover to wood chips," he said. Typical gasification plants run on about 3,000 tons per day, he said, adding that adequate feedstock can be hard to procure. "We want to be able to use what we can get," he said.

The gasifier is one-tenth the size of competing systems, which lowers the capital cost, increases efficiency and makes maintenance easier, Hartung said. The system uses a process that rapidly mixes oxygen with the coal and biomass for fast gasification in the small reactor, producing syngas consisting of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. That can be converted to electricity or processed and used to manufacture liquid fuels, fertilizers and chemicals. The gasifier will produce only a small amount of syngas at the pilot scale and the plant will not be producing electricity.

To begin with, the pilot plant will run short duration tests, followed by longer ones and after about one year, PWR hopes to begin construction on a demonstration-scale plant. The site has not been determined, but the company is considering locations in China, Alberta, Canada, and the U.S., Hartung said. The goal is to prove the system and sell the gasifier and associated hardware to large, industrial-scale facilities such as utilities, oil companies and chemical companies, he said.

PWR teamed up with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Zero Emissions Energy Plants Inc., Alberta Energy Research Institute and the Illinois Department of Conservation and Economic Opportunity to develop and commercialize the technology, according to the company. Today's commissioning ceremony will include a tour of the plant.