Fischer-Tropsch Based Biomass to Liquid Fuel Plants in the New Zealand Wood Processing Industry Based on Microchannel Reactor Technology
Thesis DisciplineChemical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This research forms part of a programme of work at the University of Canterbury investigating the production of liquid fuels from biomass. The drivers for this research are the plentiful supply of woody biomass in New Zealand as well as the necessity for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.
Fischer-Tropsch synthesis has been chosen as the base conversion method for syngas to liquid fuels. While Fischer-Tropsch plants are traditionally very large, the low geographical density of the biomass feedstock necessitates a shift from a traditional economies of scale approach. In this research a sawmill integrated polygeneration scenario is proposed that recognises the synergy between the heat and electrical requirements of a mill and the Fischer-Tropsch process that can supply both as well as liquid fuels. Techno-economic modelling of variations to this polygeneration arrangement were performed using a traditional Fischer-Tropsch slurry reactor as the basis. The breakeven price of syncrude produced in the process based on a 30 year plant life and 10% discount factor was as low as $US 167 per barrel.
This arrangement is coupled with development of and experimentation with a microchannel reactor in a further attempt to overcome economies of scale disadvantages. The lab scale microchannel reactor consisted of a shim with 50 channels of 37mm length with 0.2mm height and 0.3mm width. The microchannel reactor was tested with shorter run periods to compare different catalyst washcoats consisting of neat cobalt, cobalt on titania and a combustion synthesis method over a temperature range of 210-240°C at 20 bar. Comparison was also made to a lab scale fixed bed reactor with a powdered cobalt on titania catalyst. The neat cobalt washcoat proved to have the best performance per unit mass of catalyst of the three washcoats. The performance of the microchannel reactor was 32-40 times better per unit catalyst mass than the fixed bed reactor.
From data based on the shorter runs the neat cobalt washcoat and the cobalt on titania washcoat were selected for further analysis over longer runs at a range of pressures from 2-20 bar and temperatures from 210-240°C. These runs were each approximately 70 hours long and provided a better analysis of the narrowed catalyst choice. The productivity results of the catalysts were fitted to established kinetic equations from literature with an excellent correlation. More accurate Anderson-Schultz-Flory selectivity values were also obtained ranging between 0.72 to 0.82. This is certainly an area that would warrant further attention as a higher selectivity has a very positive affect on plant economics.
Establishment of the kinetic equations for the catalyst performance allowed modelling of reactors with greater volume along with investigation of mass transfer limitations to assist in scale up of the technology. It was found that under 4-5mm hydraulic diameter channel dimensions the mass transfer limitation from the bulk gas phase to the catalyst interface is negligible.
A scaled up microchannel reactor concept design is proposed utilising stainless steel mesh folded into 2mm channels to increase catalyst surface area compared to straight shim. A costing correlation was produced per unit of reactor volume to allow a full scale cost of the microchannel reactor to be estimated for inclusion into the techno-economic model. The revised techno-economic model was optimised through pressure variation to give a breakeven syncrude value of $US118 per barrel at Fischer-Tropsch reaction conditions of 10 bar and 240°C. This brings the value well within historical crude price trends.