More Syngas Spin from the ostensibly green transportation blog, Autoblog Green. I previously had commented upon a Volvo study that portrayed di-methyl ether in a good light. First, via high temperature gasification, the forestry waste is converted to Syngas, then DME is synthesized directly from the Syngas.
DME (Di-Methyl Ether) produced by means of BTL (Biomass To Liquid fuel) “offers the most cost-effective avoidance of CO2 of transportation fuels under consideration, according to Volvo.”
ABG reporter Jeremy Korzeniewski relays news from AB Volvo about its first hybrid garbage truck and that they have received support for field testing of DME technology.
The sample size for the field tests will be 14 trucks. The testing will encompass “the entire technology chain, from biomass to fuel in the trucks and also includes distribution and filling stations for DME. The first trucks are scheduled to be ready by the end of 2009.”
In addition to AB Volvo, Chemrec, Delphi, ETC, Haldor Topsoe, Preem and Total are participating in the project as partners. Besides AB Volvo receiving SEK 12.8 M (£ 1.08m) Chemrec, ETC and Preem are also receiving support from the Swedish Energy Agency.
The basis of the the HydroMax system is a molten metal reactor ( Iron / Tin) for a cycle of oxidation and reduction of the iron to produce carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) in separate and distinct streams.
It was an interesting coincidence… just before the ABG post appeared, I received an email from an After Gutenberg reader. (No, it wasn’t a note from my mother.) The correspondent put forward a technical case and a business case for conversion of municipal solid waste to synthetic gas, then production of alternative fuel, either methanol or di-methyl ether with the Syngas.
The fuels produced could be used by the local government transportation fleet. Local governments would supply the municipal solid waste feedstock for processing and their vehicles would be the initial market for the fuels produced.
It was noteworthy, given the increased scrutiny, particularly by the European Commission, since my initial series on integrated biofuel production, which was prompted by the correspondent, that he now paid somewhat more attention to carbon emissions.
A substantial percentage of the methanol / DME will be carbon-neutral. However, as long as plastics continue to be made from petroleum, there will be a reduced, but net atmospheric carbon-positive effect.
For greater net atmospheric carbon reduction, plastic manufacturers will have to be induced to use biomass feedstock for their products. So far, plastic manufacturers have escaped notice as an industry that should also reduce its petroleum dependence. That should no longer be the case. With biomass-derived plastic inputs, the process will be atmospheric carbon-neutral.
Well, maybe… While the results of the Zah study are favorable toward liquid bed methanol, they still indicate GHG emissions and total environmental impact; nor does another comprehensive study indicate the possibility of a negative value for CO2 equivalents for either methanol or DME. Neither study is perfect, yet an eyeball meta-analysis of the explicit carbon accounting suggests congruency by careful researchers lacking product-oriented bias.
DME arguments put forward by Peter Danielsson:
- Highest efficiency (WtW) GTL fuel from natural gas
- Next generation DME production tech. on par with diesel in
production price from stranded natural gas
- Highest efficiency biomass fuel with lowest cost
- Wide base of feedstock from biomass
- Vehicle cost on par with diesel (Euro 5/6) since lower cost
for emission controls (heavy duty)
- Low regulated emissions
- No major change in base diesel engine – primarily fuel
While one might hope that entrepreneurs are interested in producing sustainable biofuel while protecting the environment. On the other hand, to quote Earl Killian, “this is a case in point, where economics could override environmental concerns and why it makes a good deal of sense to know as much about the pros and cons.”
The Syngas proponent would seem to want divert the focus away from the toxic emissions produced by conversion of municipal solid waste to Syngas and direct attention toward the conversion of biomass to plastic, without acknowledging that such processes are often part of BTL (Biomass To Liquid fuels). When feedstock other than waste is used, BTL fares poorly from the standpoint of GHG emissions and total environmental impact.
The Syngas proponent also referred to a previous post, when this blog first considered the conversion of municipal waste to energy. At that time, I considered the use of a molten metal reactor ( Iron / Tin) to convert municipal waste to Syngas. I also suggested consideration of the CO2 emission profile for such a process, acknowledging environmental consequences depending upon the source and amount of energy used in conversion, plus the source and amount of energy required in obtaining sufficient feedstock.
These remain questions in my mind. Branding a process “atmospheric carbon neutral” is a far cry from multiple sources of independent verification in terms of the environmental credibility of converting municipal solid waste to an alternative transportation fuel.
Marchetti, G. 2008. “Methanol and DME from Municipal Solid Waste” [private communication], 6 Apr 2008.