Issue: Sep 2011


by Bob Brooks

Envergent Technologies, a joint venture of Honeywell’s UOP and Ensyn Corp have obtained $25 million from DOE(Department of Energy) to demonstrate that low cost pyrolysis oil derived from biomass in a matter of seconds at 500C or greater (in the absence of oxygen) can then be refined and hydrotreated into economic drop-in bio fuels(gasoline, diesel and JetA).

The venture combines the world’s leading provider of petroleum refining technology, Honeyell’s UOP, with the long term experience of Ensyn Corp. in the dynamic field of
high temperature processing of biomass. Support for the program is provided by General Motors, Boeing, Cargill and others. The potential is indicated by Envergent’s estimate that biomass at a cost of $40 per bone dry metric ton, can result in pyrolysis oil at $0.41 per gallon ($17.22/bbl) prior to refining and hydrotreating into finished fuel.

Asked about the expected end cost of finished drop in fuel, a spokesperson for UOP says it will be competitive with petroleum products.

Construction of the facility in Hawaii for the demonstration has already begun. One reason for Hawaii is its unique location that requires all petroleum for all uses be imported . Hawaii
has targeted elimination of 70% of its petroleum dependence by 2030. Hawaii consumption of petroleum prior to the recent economic downturn has been around 2 billion gallons per year. Electric generation from oil is reported to have the highest cost for residential use in the U.S. of 24.47 cents/kWh. (yr 2010)

If the demonstration is successful, UOP estimates that a commercial scale plant based on pyrolysis oil may produce 50 million gallons of finished fuel per year and provide up to 1000 jobs in production and the feedstock supply chain. In early laboratory development stage it was found that biomass to pyrolysis oil has a yield ratio is 1:4. The pyrolysis oil producing system is termed RTP(rapid thermal processing). Answers to a number of questions provided by UOP are as follows:

- Sources of huge quantities of biomass needed? A. “There is sufficient biomass available today to support commercialization of this type of technology. There is a considerable amount of woody (lignocellulosic) biomass already produced in the U.S. as either waste from forestry or paper production or from agricultural residues. It is estimated there is roughly 18 million tons of forestry waste produced in the U.S. every year that is not currently utilized for any material or energy purposes, and additional feed stocks are available on a regional basis. Total biomass residues from all sources in the U.S. is estimated to be between 44 and 100 million tons/yr.” (Forest management experts have long sought clean up of forests to reduce destructive fires and improved yields).

- Is algae a leading choice biomass source? A. “Algae is definitely being considered but its conversion to fuels via our RTP and upgrading process is more complex than woody biomass”.
- What are expected costs ($/gal) of finished diesel, JetA or gasoline?: A. “We fully expect cost of finished green fuels will be competitive with market costs.

- What is the outlook for total facility cost per bbl/yr capacity? A. ”Analysis to date allows us to believe that fuels produced in this manner can absolutely be in parity with petroleum based fuels as well as bio fuels currently available.”

- What are favorable locations for total production facilities? A. “The most favorable
locations will be where forestry derived biomass and U.S. refining capacity are co-
located. In the U.S. this would include the Southeast, Northwest, upper Midwest and
even northern California”

- What is start date for production at initial scale? A. “The RTP portion of the facility
(biomass to pyrolysis oil) will be up and running by the end of 2012. The upgrader
to green transportation fuels will be running in 2014”.
- What % o fuel energy produced is used internally to operate the RTP and other
processes? A. “ The RTP process is an energy positive process as the co-products
produced are recycled to the re-heater section where they can be combusted to heat the
sand used in the RTP reactor. Excess heat from combustion can also be used earlier in
the process to dry the biomass feedstock. The upgrading process to convert the RTP
product to green transportation fuels requires electrical power for the rotating equipment
such as pumps and blowers, but our preliminary life cycle analysis shown that the
greenhouse gas savings can be more than 60% relative to petroleum-based

- What is the source and cost of H2 for hydrotreating the green fuel? A. ”Co-location with existing refineries can leverage existing refining infrastructure to access the needed hydrogen. The cheapest mode of hydrogen production tend to be steam methane reforming of natural gas or hydrogen collected from the reforming of naphtha, but this will range depending on the refinery”

- For the total system, what is the total Btu input vs. end fuel Btu output? A. ”Preliminary results show that we are producing between 2 to 3 Btu out per Btu in for the RTP Process. The upgrading portion of the unit will require electrical power as well.

Adding dimension to pyrolysis oil and its conversion to finished fuels is recent announcement that GTL (gas to liquids) in this case, natural gas to diesel
fuel, now in production in Qatar at a Royal Dutch Shell plant producing 140,000 bb/day GTL diesel fuel, is being considered by GTL’s long time proponent, Sasol Ltd,
for the U.S. A Sasol plant has been proposed in Louisiana that may produce close to
100,000 bbl/day diesel fuel(including some naptha) at an initial plant cost of close to $10 billion.

A decision on construction of the Sasol plant in Louisiana is to be made in 18 months which may precede timing for commitment to first full scale pyrolysis oil based Envergent fuel production of gasoline, diesel or JetA.

Unknown at deadline for this report are the specifics of differences in the cost, environmental and energy use between natural gas GTL and pyrolysis based bio fuels. The Financial Times, however, has reported that the current cost of natural gas is $24/bbl petroleum equivalent and that long term supply contracts for large quantities of gas at or near this cost are possible in light of recent discoveries of new of U.S. reserves. Possible new regulations governing recovery of shale gas, hence related cost however, are not yet clear.

It is also indicated that on a well to wheel basis, pyrolysis oil based fuel will have environmental advantages. The firm’s life cycle analysis shows that pyrolysis oil from the RTP system reduces GHG emissions by 70% to 88% depending on biomass transport distance. Both types, however, have the advantage of being drop-in, hence, require no changes in vehicle engine systems. Diesel is the only GTL fuel mentioned by Sasol as output from its system.

Suffice it to say that all U.S. made fuels will contribute to solving the problems of dollar outflow and national security associated with imported energy. Not to be forgotten, of course, are the many efforts stimulated by the offer of $510 million for USDA/DOE/Navy team matching funds for alternative fuel production facilities in the U.S. The $25 million DOE funding approved for Envergent pyrolysis oil based fuel demonstration is in addition to the $510 million program.

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