Useful feedstocks include virtually any type of non-food biomass— such as forestry and agricultural residues, algae, aquatic plants and cellulosic fractions of municipal waste, including most types of plastic — to gasoline, jet and diesel range hydrocarbon fuels and/or blend stocks. This process was invented by the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) of Des Plaines, IL in 2009 and further developed with CRI from 2010. GTI has licensed the IH² technology to CRI Catalyst Company (CRI) for exclusive worldwide deployment.
Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion
The IH² (Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion) technology is a continuous catalytic thermochemical process estimated to provide a cost-effective route, from a broad spectrum of organic wastes to fungible liquid hydrocarbon transportation fuels.
The IH² process has four primary elements. The first is biomass conditioning, i.e., sizing and drying to 10–30 wt% moisture. The second element involves hydrodeoxygenation of the volatilized biomass to produce a raw hydrocarbon product over proprietary CRI catalysts in the presence of low to medium-pressure hydrogen. This serves both to remove oxygen and remove highly reactive and corrosive components to provide a stable hydrocarbon product. The third element is a fixed-bed hydrotreater, which uses other proprietary CRI catalysts to polish the first-stage product and transform it into a finished hydrocarbon fuel or blend stock. The fourth element is a Hydrogen Manufacturing Unit (HMU), which converts light gases generated in the first-stage to renewable hydrogen, in sufficient quantity to supply all process needs. The individual elements are all commercial, which minimizes design risk and allows for rapid implementation of the IH² technology.
Pilot Plant Operation
As a step in the commercialization process, in the first quarter of 2012, GTI commissioned a new 50 kg/day Pilot-Scale IH² Plant. The goal of the pilot plant studies was to validate operational and performance factors key to achieving commercial deployment, as total proposed requirement for advanced biofuels volume is 4.24 billion gallons to meet the RFSP mandates in 2018 proposed by EPA.
Since the IH² Pilot Plant has been online it has accumulated over 9,000 stream hours. All basic design principles have been validated. Key operating factors of the IH² technology, including the feed-handling and supply system, the hydropyrolysis and hydroconversion reactors, and the separation systems for the residual ash and char have been verified.
Liquid hydrocarbons are the key process outputs for IH² technology. Forestry agricultural and aquatic plant residues have been successfully fed through the IH² Pilot Plant and converted to gasoline, kerosene and diesel products with undetectably low oxygen content and very low total acid number (TAN), comparable to those produced in the R&D project phase.
The Demonstration Facility, which processes five metric tonnes of feedstock per day on a dry, ash-free basis, is located at Shell Technology Center Bangalore (STCB), India. The construction of the facility started in Q4 2016 based on a design that uses commercially available, ‘off-the-shelf’ equipment in all key process elements. Commissioning and start up was completed in Q3 2017 after more than 350,000 manhours on site without safety incident.
Among the 44 vendor packages, Zeton, Inc., of Ontario, Canada has constructed a modular skid-mounted main processing unit containing the hydropyrolysis and hydroconversion reactors, Hydro-Chem, a Linde affiliate, of Atlanta, US provided the hydrogen manufacturing unit, and Dresser Rand of Gujarat, India supplied the hydrogen compressor.
Successful operation of the Demonstration Facility has been a key milestone in the scale-up and commercialization of the IH² process. First hydrocarbon was produced in October 2017 and full ramp-up to nameplate capacity has been achieved in Q1 2018.
The purpose of the Demonstration Facility is to showcase the integration of an IH² process with a steam reformer using the off-gasses of the main process to achieve hydrogen self-sufficiency. It will validate the product quality and yield structure of the process with various commercial feedstocks and catalyst particle sizes, under commercially relevant hydrodynamic conditions. For first licensees, the unit also provides a training platform for operators.
The Pilot Plant and Demonstration Facility operation broadens the capabilities for biomass-to-liquid hydrocarbon fuel conversion. Both units’ ability to operate continuously provides an ideal platform for process optimization and production of hydrocarbons for detailed product characterization. Hydrocarbons produced from woody biomass have been fractionated into their respective fractions. The wood-derived gasoline fraction results in a water white product.
Using recently developed proprietary catalyst systems created by CRI’s R&D team at the Shell Technology Center Bangalore (STCB), India, this gasoline meets the ASTM D-4814-11b Standard Specification for Automotive Spark-Ignition Engine Fuel. The diesel meets the ASTM 975-11 Standard Specification for Diesel Fuel Oils.
Initial combustion testing of the diesel revealed additional benefits. Lower total particulate matter (PM), lower Non-Methane Hydrocarbon and lower NOx emissions were measured compared to standard fossil diesel. Combustion analysis of the gasoline and jet fractions is currently underway.
IH² fuels were successfully used in the South Pole Energy Challenge as the main fuel source to provide clean energy and keep the team warm, dry and fed in one of the harshest environments on Earth during this epic 600-mile trek.
Based on the laboratory studies with more than 10,000 hours on stream data, capital estimations have been completed for full-scale design feed rates up to 2,000 tonnes/day. Economics for the 2,000 tonnes/day woody biomass feed and 60.9 million gallon/year facility were conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the capital which has been validated by a global engineering and construction company. Based on the NREL economic estimate, the minimum fuel selling price (MFSP), inflated to 2012 dollars, would be ~$2.00/gallon. Using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a simplified average breakeven crude price estimate of $60/bbl was generated for the NREL techno-economic analysis.
The IH² process is flexible with the possibility to accommodate complementary process units, offering various levels of integration with existing assets. Minimum fuel selling price (MFSP) is impacted by the opportunity of integration with an existing site such as paper mills, ethanol plants, agricultural or recycling operations, and fossil hydrocarbon refineries.
Using the refinery example, the reformer and balance-of-plant units can be used from the existing assets, which can potentially reduce MFSP to potentially approximately $1.50/gallon (2012) using economic assumptions specified in the NREL analysis.
When integrated with an existing ethanol plant, inclusion of an IH² facility creates a higher value from biomass than afforded by heat and electrical power sales (NA basis) when compared to the value generated for the gasoline and diesel produced.
CRI has provided 11 IH2 Technology licenses through end of 2017 for customers to conduct detailed site-specific feasibility studies (FEED). These facilities span the biomass feedstock spectrum, including wood, crop residues, municipal solid waste and refinery integration with clients in North America, Europe and Asia. Most of these commercial facilities will be brownfield sites, integrating with existing operations.
KBR, CRI’s commercial scale engineering alliance partner, has completed the above FEED designs through end 2017 for units between 500 and 1,500 metric ton biomass/day plants using paper & pulp, forestry and agricultural residue feedstock.