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Gasification Technology - Page 2

 Introduction | History | Challenges | Benefits | Current Tech | Future Tech | Conclusions 

By Scott Miller — February 2011

Gasification History

From 1669 to 1861, various experiments and developments formed the scientific basis of pyrolysis and gasification using feedstocks of coal, oil and charred wood. The first commercial applications for gasification came online in 1812 in England, 1816 in the United States, and 1825 in Germany. Siemens introduced a new gasifier design in 1861 that is widely considered the first commercially successful model. These early applications involved the use of the manufactured gases directly as a gaseous fuel (the predecessor to natural gas).

In the 1920s and 30s, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, developed the processes for sorting and reassembling the manufactured gasses into liquid fuels by causing chemical reactions between the gasses and catalysts (Fischer-Tropsch Process, or FT). This process was used by Germany during World War II and in South Africa during the Apartheid era for converting coal to synthetic liquid fuels.

At its peak in the United States, manufactured gas was being produced in over 1500 commercial plants and over 25,000 institutional and factory units. In New York City in 1891, 16 different companies were producing and selling manufactured gas commercially from over 120 known gas plants. Boston, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis are all known to have had over 50 gas plants each.

Gasification technology has come a long way since those early days. One of the most advanced commercial gasification facilities in the world is the Great Plains Synfuels Plant right here in the USA. Located in Beulah, North Dakota, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant (GPSP) is currently converting an average of 16,000 tons of lignite coal into synthetic natural gas every day. A comparable liquids plant would be about 40,000 barrels per day. The GPSP has been in operation for over 25 years producing SNG, ammonium sulfate, xenon, krypton and other useful byproducts. The facility also incorporates CO2 sequestration, capturing and selling most of its CO2 to Enhanced Oil Recovery operations. The facility uses a total of 14 gasifiers and other equipment.

Revisiting our objective goal of 10 million barrels per day, it would take about 250 facilities comparable to the GPSP to achieve this goal. This would involve a total of 3500 gasifiers, which are the most technically complex element of the system. While modern gasifiers are obviously larger and more complex than those used in the late 1890s and early 1900s, it is reasonable to state it is within our modern technological capabilities to build the facilities necessary to produce 10 million barrels per day. So why aren't we?

 Introduction | History | Challenges | Benefits | Current Tech | Future Tech | Conclusions 

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