In the Alternate Production technology pathway, clean syngas from coal is
converted to high-hydrogen-content liquid hydrocarbon carriers, alcohols, or
methane (“substitute natural gas or SNG). After syngas from gasification is
cleaned of sulfur and other impurities, Fischer-Tropsch catalysts can be used to
cause the hydrogen and carbon in the syngas to combine to form a variety of
hydrocarbon molecules, and the composition of the product can be adjusted by
changing process conditions. By further changes in process conditions and
catalysts, alcohols such as methanol, or SNG can be produced.
These products have the benefit of being deliverable through our existing
fuel distribution infrastructure and reformed to provide hydrogen near the point
of use, thus providing a potential acceleration of hydrogen market penetration
until hydrogen pipeline systems are installed. The evaluation and
identification of these alternate pathways are an important part of this
RD&D program. Computational studies and analyses are expected to play a key
role in identifying promising reaction chemistries and chemical processing
While Fischer-Tropsch technology for producing liquid fuels from coal has
been commercialized in South Africa, further cost reductions and improvements in
environmental performance, particularly CO2 capture, are necessary to
surpass economic hurdles for application in U.S. markets. Studies are needed to
identify the most optimal hydrogen-rich, synthesis gas-derived liquid fuel that
can be used for hydrogen generation at sub-central or distributed hydrogen
production sites. To be effective hydrogen carriers, synthesis gas-derived
liquids and SNG must be produced, delivered, and converted into hydrogen in an
efficient manner that overrides the number of energy-using steps required to
provide the hydrogen. These systems require improvements in reactor design and
advanced catalysts. SNG production processes need to be optimized to improve
process efficiency and operations.
Current, small-scale, distributed reformer technologies are currently too
expensive to supply hydrogen at a cost comparable to that of gasoline. An
alternative plant could be a sub-central reformer. Multiple-unit operations and
insufficient heat integration contribute to large, costly production and
purification subsystems. Improved reforming and shift catalysts are needed to
reduce side reactions and improve performance, bearing in mind the availability
of the catalyst materials. Operating and maintenance costs are too high for
distributed hydrogen generation plants that use hydrogen-rich, synthesis
gas-derived liquids as feedstocks. Small-scale, distributed generation and
sub-central reforming of fossil fuel-derived liquid fuels will emit greenhouse
gases. Cost-effective capture of CO2 from distributed generation
facilities is more difficult than at central locations.
Some of the significant RD&D
issues for this pathway are:
- Studies must be completed, including computational chemistry analysis, to
identify the most optimal hydrogen-rich, synthesis gas-derived liquid that can
be used for hydrogen generation in sub-central or distributed hydrogen
- Improvements are needed in reactor design and advanced catalysts.
- Integrated operation of the coal-to-syngas with the hydrogen-rich liquids
production process has to be demonstrated at commercial-scale. Use of
hydrogen-rich liquids derived from synthesis gas needs to be demonstrated in
reforming/fuel cell systems to confirm their suitability as hydrogen carriers.
- SNG production processes need to be optimized to improve process efficiency
- Improved processes that require less operator control and maintenance are
- Research is needed to discover potential options to sequester CO2
from distributed generation systems.
Goal and Milestones – Alternate Hydrogen Production
Goal: By the end of 2013, optimize,
integrate and make available an alternative economic and environmentally
responsive hydrogen production pathway and reforming system to produce
- By the end of 2010, hydrogen-rich liquid fuels and SNG from coal
technologies are feasible as an alternate hydrogen from coal production pathway
and are able to meet the hydrogen cost target.
- By the end of 2013, optimize, integrate and make available an alternate
hydrogen production pathway and reforming system to produce decentralized
Accomplishments and Current Activities
a long history as a leader in researching, developing, and demonstrating the
production of liquid fuels from coal-derived synthesis gas. FE’s RD&D
program has included the Liquid Phase Methanol (LPMEOH) demonstration project, a
DOE Clean Coal Technology Demonstration Program project. Air Products and
Chemicals, Inc. (APCI) was the lead on the $213-million project, which
demonstrated commercial-scale production of methanol and dimethyl ether (DME)
from coal-derived synthesis gas. The project produced nearly 104 million
gallons of methanol, subsequently used by Eastman Chemical as the basis for
producing a variety of chemical products.
Co-production of Electric
Power and FT
Waste Management Processors, Inc.
The project will convert more than 4,700 tons per day of anthracite coal
waste into electric power and more than 5,000 barrels per day of liquid
Until recently, DOE has been funding the LaPorte Alternative Fuels
Development unit (AFDU) located at LaPorte, Texas and operated by APCI. This
unit utilized simulated coal-derived synthesis gas to produce zero-sulfur FT
liquid fuels, DME, and alcohols and successfully demonstrated liquid phase water
gas shift. More recently, as part of the Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI),
Waste Management and Processors, Inc. and its partners were selected to perform
a six-year project to convert coal waste into electric power and clean,
synthesis gas-derived liquid fuels (see box at right). This fuel could
eventually serve as a significant early source of hydrogen for an emerging
Current R&D activities in this pathway are addressing the following
- Develop computational and analytical tools to simulate hydrogen-rich,
synthesis gas-derived liquid fuels and SNG production to determine the optimum
processes, and to simulate the separation of hydrogen from hydrogen-rich,
synthesis gas-derived liquid fuels and SNG in sub-central or distributed
- Develop novel reactor and catalyst systems to produce the most optimal,
hydrogen-rich, synthesis gas-derived liquid fuels for reforming applications.
- Develop and optimize advanced SNG production technologies.
- Optimize sub-central production and distributed reformers for hydrogen-rich,
synthesis gas-derived liquid fuels and SNG.
- Demonstrate reforming of the most optimal, hydrogen-rich, synthesis
gas-derived liquid fuels and SNG in sub-central and distributed reforming
Specific R&D projects are listed in the following table.
Other program elements within Hydrogen & Clean Fuels Technology include