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Coal and Biomass to Liquids

National Carbon Capture Center Slip Stream Test Site Coal Biomass to Liquids using Fischer Tropsch Catalyst

National Carbon Capture Center Slip Stream Test Site Coal Biomass to Liquids using Fischer Tropsch Catalyst

The Coal and Coal-Biomass-to-Liquids (C&CBTL) Program supports DOE’s strategic goals of increasing energy security, reducing environmental impact of energy use, promoting economic development, and encouraging scientific discovery and innovation by researching and developing novel technologies that convert the nation’s abundant coal resources into hydrogen and other clean fuels. The use of coal — America’s largest domestic fossil energy resource — offers the potential to economically produce hydrogen and capture carbon dioxide emissions for the generation of low-carbon electricity. In a co-production concept, coal can also be converted into power and other fuels such as gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel; chemicals; and substitute natural gas (SNG) which can help reduce reliance on imported oil and natural gas. Carbon capture and storage can be integrated with these processes and, because these processes typically utilize gasification, biomass can be co-utilized to further reduce the carbon footprint while allowing biomass to take advantage of the economies of scale associated with coal.

The C&CBTL Program is focused on technologies to foster the commercial adoption of coal and coal-biomass gasification and the production of affordable liquid fuels and hydrogen in an environmentally acceptable manner.

The C&CBTL research and development (R&D) approach is organized in four key areas: 1. Biomass Feed and Gasification; 2. Reactor Engineering Design; 3. Advanced Fuels Synthesis; 4. Site Specific Coal Conversion.

  • Biomass Feed and Gasification R&D Area - is advancing scientific knowledge of the feeding and conversion of biomass and coal-biomass mixtures as essential upstream steps for production of liquid transportation fuels with a lower net GHG emissions than conventional oil refining. Activities support research for handling and processing of coal-biomass mixtures, ensuring those mixtures are compatible with feed delivery systems, identifying potential impacts on downstream components, and conversion optimization; on biomass ash catalytic properties; and on biomass conversion in separate reactors, from feed processing to downstream merging with coal process streams. New work in this area will be tailored to biomass types and processes under serious consideration for use in pilot plants to be developed in the new Radically Engineered Modular Systems (REMS) initiative under the Gasification Systems and C&CBTL Programs. 
  • Reactor Engineering Design R&D Area – will focus on control of chemical reactions with unprecedented precision in increasingly modular and efficient reactors, allowing for smaller reactors and streamlined processes that will convert coal into valuable products at low cost and with high energy efficiency. Here, the specific emphasis will be reactors enabling conversion of coal-biomass to liquid fuels, Novel reactors, advanced manufacturing, etc. will be innovatively utilized in new C&CBTL processes and plants, especially in gasifiers specifically and primarily designed for liquid fuels production, or in direct coal to liquid fuels conversion technologies.
  • Advanced Fuels Synthesis R&D Area - Focuses on catalyst and reactor optimization for producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels and valuable by-products from coal/coal-biomass mixtures. The current focus is on making significant improvements in fuels synthesis product distribution, i.e., by developing catalysts that are not bound by the Anderson-Shultz-Flory distributions characteristic of conventional silica-, alumina- or zeolite-supported iron or cobalt Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) synthesis catalysts. Future work in this area may include direct coal conversion to higher value products such as aromatics needed for high altitude jet fuel, and solid carbon product by-products.
  • Site Specific Coal Conversion R&D Area - will include less mature R&D and case-specific engineering and construction and balance of plant R&D to most effectively deploy advanced C&CBTL systems in a certain location, with a certain feed, infrastructure, and environment for fuels production. Essentially, work in this area will be a bridge between a systems or process design for a particular application of coal-biomass to liquids, and a specific pilot-scale site chosen. It is the aim for pilot plants to replicate as much as reasonable the actual conditions of a specific deployment plan, including balance of plant, natural resource availability, workforce sophistication, environmental stresses, opportunity fuels, opportunity by-product creation, and product markets and transportation. For instance, if a process solution is designed to create a synthetic crude oil but a set of refined products is more marketable in the selected site location, work under this Key Area would select the next best solution to create refined products, or initiate R&D to improve upon these systems.
  • Radically Engineered Modular Systems (REMS) is a new R&D coal conversion approach. It centers on using small scale, modular systems with heavy reliance on advanced manufacturing, sophisticated modeling and simulation, and reaction and process intensification. The REMS approach is intended to: increase plant availability, reduce capital costs and cost of energy production, reduce development time and cost, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and leverage technical breakthroughs with commercial technologies.