DOE grant supports conversion of biomass and coal to liquid fuels

By Southern Research Institute | January 07, 2013

Southern Research Institute has announced it has entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. DOE to test an innovative method for producing liquid transportation fuels from coal and biomass thereby improving the economics and lifecycle impacts of coal-to-liquid (CTL) and coal-biomass-to-liquid (CBTL) processes. The novel approach eliminates the typical Fischer-Tropsch product upgrading and refining steps and enhances the ability of CTL and CBTL processes to compete with petroleum-based processes.

"We hope the project will advance CTL and CBTL processes by demonstrating a cost-effective, novel FT catalyst that selectively converts syngas derived from the gasification of coal and coal-biomass mixtures predominantly to gasoline and diesel range hydrocarbons, thereby eliminating expensive upgrading operations," said Santosh K. Gangwal, Southern Research principal investigator. "We will evaluate the impact of adding moderate amounts of biomass to coal on CBTL products and process economics, and compare the carbon footprint of CBTL processes with petroleum-based fuel production processes."

The Southern Research team includes research partners from Southern Company Services and Nexant Inc. The project will implement a full coal and coal-biomass to liquids bench-scale FT synthesis reactor system to produce liquid transportation fuels using the selective, wax-free FT catalyst provided by Chevron. Gangwal says the research team will use an existing demonstration scale coal gasifier at the DOE's National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Ala.—an air-blown transport gasifier (also known as TRIG) operated by Southern Company Services—as the source of both coal and coal-biomass derived syngas.

"If successful in reducing the production costs and environmental impact of alternative fuel processes , this project could lead to commercialization of CBTL processes, resulting in a decrease in U.S. dependence on foreign oil, new jobs, and reduced fuel prices at the pump," said Tim Hansen, director, Advanced Energy and Transportation Technologies.