The PEFI licensed technology will produce clean burning alcohol fuel from conversion of synthesis gases produced from biomass. The wood residues to be converted are gasified in a closed system and cleaned and treated resulting in removed carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) which are then converted into a mix of ethanol and higher alcohols.


Gene Jackson | Power Energy Fuels, Inc

The PEFI licensed technology will produce clean burning alcohol fuel from conversion of synthesis gases produced from biomass. The wood residues to be converted are gasified in a closed system and cleaned and treated resulting in removed carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) which are then converted into a mix of ethanol and higher alcohols.
(Ecalene™) Ecalene™ DE (Denatured Ethanol)
Gene Jackson
Power Energy Fuels, Inc.


Alcohols, and ethanol in particular, have been receiving considerable attention for use in blends with gasoline as a replacement for Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), and as substitutes for gasoline in E85 and flex-fuel vehicles. Unfortunately ethanol, produced mainly by the traditional fermentation/distillation process, is also currently expensive and requires federal subsidies to produce a gasoline blend at a competitive price. Feedstocks are limited to sugars and starches for fermentation processes. Acid hydrolysis processes in development have the potential to utilize more cellulosic feedstocks, but are unable to utilize lignin, which can comprise up to one fourth of biomass. The economic viability of acid hydrolysis approaches tends to be controlled by identifying uses for lignin which is a waste product for the technology.

The technology that Power Energy Fuels, Inc. has licensed will commercialize a process to produce ethanol and other alcohols from gasified biomass registered with the EPA as Ecalene™. Gasification of biomass will be performed by both a boiler to produce all the power needed for the compression but also for the heat to operate a Steam Gasifier SG that will produce the synthesis gas in the ratio's needed to produce the Ecalene™ product. The synthesis gas will then be passes through a patented MoS2-based catalytic conversion of synthesis gas to a mixed alcohol product, which consists primarily of straight-chain terminal C1-C6 alcohols and has been determined to fall under the Environmental Protection Agency's Octamix waiver. The target composition of the product is currently 0% methanol, 75-80% ethanol, ~15% propanol, ~5% butanol, ~3% pentanol, and ~2% hexanol and higher; however, the distribution of alcohols in the product is highly adjustable by modifying process parameters. Projected uses are a 10% blend with gasoline or as a 100% alcohol fuel hydrous or anhydrous for Ecalene™. The gasification/catalytic conversion approach has advantages over fermentation processes and acid hydrolysis processes because carbon in any form in biomass; sugars, starches, cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, can be converted. Preliminary economic analyses of the proposed process indicate that the mixed alcohol product can be produced at a 15-20% cost savings compared to production of ethanol by fermentation. The economics will be even more favorable when feedstocks with a tipping fee are processed in the proposed system.

Technical Merit and Approach

For this project the integrated process will produce approximately 11,500 gallons per day of mixed alcohols. A four-month project is proposed to develop the combined process, construct and test the necessary pilot-scale equipment. Extensive engine tests on the resulting fuels have been conducted and it has been proven to be superior. PEFI has selected a propriatory Catalytic Steam Reformer that has been proven commercially with a 150 ton/day plant operating for over 7 years in converting biomass to synthesis gas. Key technical issues have been overcome to commercialize the integrated process of making Ecalene™DE from the synthesis gas created from this gasifier.

Gasification allows biomass to be converted to a clean fuel gas form (synthesis gas) via a thermochemical process. The synthesis gas can then be catalytically converted to fuels and chemicals or used with a variety of energy conversion devices to produce power. For the proposed process, a technology base is needed for oxygen-blown gasifiers or steam gasification to produce synthesis gas with a composition in the range acceptable for the alcohol reactor at the right temperatures and pressures. Simple approaches to gasification of biomass tend to produce synthesis gas that contains too much N and CO2 and insufficient H2 relative to CO.

The alcohol synthesis process utilizes a MoS2-based catalyst originally discovered by Dow Chemical Co. and Union Carbide in the mid 1980s and studied by academic research groups at Lehigh University and West Virginia University. Recently patented improvements licensed by PEFI to the process have significantly improved yields and can further reduce the cost of production. The research published to date has indicated that the technology is ready for commercial application.

Energy/Oil Displacement, Economic Improvement, Environment

The mixed alcohol product is planned for initial marketing as a 10% blend with gasoline. This product is also registered and is suitable for blends with diesel fuels from 20 to 30% and higher blends. Economic benefits include jobs related to construction, operation and maintenance of plants, and jobs related to production of catalyst. A unique feature of this approach is that many waste sources of biomass and other materials, including wood waste, animal waste (dairy, hog, poultry etc.), and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) can be converted to alcohols.

The banning of MTBE and the oil market is driving the projected increase in the use of ethanol and other alcohols such as Ecalene™ will be to replace it. After production capacity of ethanol and other alcohols is sufficient to replace MTBE, oil displacement will depend largely on increasing the amount of gasoline blends sold. Currently, reformulated gasoline accounts for approximately one third of the gasoline sold. Increased production of ethanol and alcohols at reasonable prices could increase that fraction and substantially increase oil displacement. As a gasoline blend, the displacement could reach over 1,000,000 barrels a day, assuming most of the gasoline market eventually contains 10% alcohol. The fuel has already performed over and above as expected in flex-fuel vehicles, potential markets and oil displacement will increase substantially for the straight hydrous and anhydrous Ecalene™.

Commercialization and deployment

This product is expected to launch into the market place with at least three or more projects utilizing the gasification process with one or more projects utilizing the plasma arc gasification technology. Ecalene™ is registered with US EPA per CFR 79.23 as a fuel additive. The process includes a catalyst that is tolerant to sulfur dioxide and other sulfur compounds, and can handle "dirty" synthesis gas, where other technologies need a very clean synthesis gas such as methanol.

Technical, Management, and Facility Capabilities

Power Energy Fuels, Inc. (PEFI) is a Colorado-based corporation formed in 1996. The company has the exclusive worldwide licensing rights to the use of a patented catalytic process that will convert synthesis gas from any carbonaceous source into a mixed alcohol product, trade named EcaleneTM. The product is registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a fuel additive.

The steam reformer uses a patent pending indirect heating method that permits the steam reforming of organic-rich materials into a medium-calorific value product gas (H2 and CO) that can further be converted to ethanol Ecalene™ or other products or used directly as a fuel. The steam-reforming technology is uniquely capable of processing a wide spectrum of organic feedstocks, including Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), sewage sludge, paper mill sludge (primary, secondary, or recycle mill rejects), biomass, coal, scrap tires, hazardous waste, pulp mill spent liquor, or any other materials containing organics, to produce a hydrogen-rich, medium-calorific value gas.

Ethanol derived from biomass has great potential in reducing dependence on foreign oil as well as providing environmental benefits as a replacement for MTBE in gasoline and for blending with gasoline up to 85% for use in flex fuel vehicles. The grade and quality of mixed alcohols produced allows it to be blended with diesel fuel to reduce emissions to meet upcoming regulations. Present production based on fermentation/distillation is concentrated in the Midwest. The current cost of ethanol produced from the traditional method is non-competitive without government subsidies. Potential production quantities, even with the new plants being constructed, will not meet projected Renewable Fuel Standards demand of 5.1 billion gallons per year by the year 2012. Transportation costs from production facilities in the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest adds an additional significant cost that is a true economic barrier to ethanol use in that area of the country. Discussions with area splash mixers revealed ethanol produced in Brazil is transported for use in the Portland area to meet demand for 10% blend.

Biomass in the form of wood residues is plentiful in the Pacific Northwest as well as other areas of the country. The entire area would benefit environmentally from cleaner air by developing a beneficial use for wood waste/residues and reduced ethanol blended fuels cost. Ethanol/mixed alcohols Ecalene™ production from wood fiber will fill the need for this area as well as other locations in Arizona, New Mexico and the entire USA.

By law, no wood residues in Oregon can be landfilled or consumed by open burning. Currently, most of the wood residues are processed into boiler fuel and consumed in the pulp and paper industry. There is sufficient biomass available for boiler fuel and ethanol production for this facility and other locations when the commercialization phase is to be initiated.

The PEFI licensed technology will produce clean burning alcohol fuel from conversion of synthesis gases produced from biomass. The wood residues to be converted are gasified in a closed system and cleaned and treated resulting in removed carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) which are then converted into a mix of ethanol and higher alcohols.

The catalyst and process have been extensively researched at Brookhaven National Laboratories in Upton, New York by Dr. Devinder Mahajan (head scientist for the Catalyst Department). Drs. Vijay Sethi, Michael Hauck, and Andrew Lucero of Western Research Institute have conducted extensive research on the catalyst and method of production of higher alcohols.

Applying the cogeneration aspect to provide power for the proposed process will significantly reduce costs of production and will provide a beneficial environmental impact as compared to purchasing fossil fuel derived power. Other environmental benefits include reduced NOx, SOx, and CO2. Wastes and byproducts from the process will be recycled to the fluidized bed combustor and utilized to generate heat and/or be reconfigured in the combustion process. The cogeneration approach will also allow future plants to be located close to the sources of biomass, thereby reducing one of the biggest economic barriers to the implementation of this technology - transportation of feedstock to the plant.

Power Energy Fuels, Inc. PEFI, has licensed Forest Rescue LLC to build a Commercial/ Demonstration plant. FRLLC will invite a select number of clients to participate in the plant. This plant will answer all of the questions that a client may have in the building of a plant. Participants would have access to raw data and Engineering Drawings, positioning the client to finance and build other plants.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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