Project No: NT0005988
Performer: University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER)


Jenny Tennant
Technology Manager
Coal and Coal/Biomass to Liquids
National Energy Technology Laboratory
3610 Collins Ferry Road
P.O. Box 880, MS B17
Morgantown, WV 26507-0880
(304) 285-4830

Arun Bose
Project Manager
National Energy Technology Laboratory
626 Cochrans Mill Road
P.O. Box 10940
Pittsburgh, PA 15236-0940
(412) 386-4467

Rodney Andrews
Principal Investigator
University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER)
109 Kinkead Hall
Lexington, KY 40508-0000
(606) 257-0265

Award Date:  08/06/2008
Project Date:  06/30/2015

DOE Share: $4,568,940.00
Performer Share: $1,166,067.00
Total Award Value: $5,735,007.00

Performer website: University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) -

Advanced Energy Systems - Coal and Coal/Biomass to Liquids

Coal Fuels Alliance: Design and Construction of Early Lead Mini Fischer-Tropsch Refinery

Project Description

The objective of this project is to advance the design and construction of a mini Fischer-Tropsch refinery at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER). The unit is intended for use as a low-cost test bed for new concepts. It will provide open-access facilities and information in the public domain to aid the wider scientific and industrial community, and provide a means to independently review vendor claims and validate fuel performance and quality.

Program Background and Project Benefits

The Department of Energy (DOE) is committed to supporting research focused on making use of the nation's coal and biomass resources. The Coal and Coal Biomass to Liquids (C&CBTL) Technology Program at DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is developing advanced technologies to remove technical barriers that will foster the commercial adoption of coal and coal/biomass gasification technologies for the production of affordable hydrogen and liquid fuels (such as gasoline, diesel, aviation, and military fuels). The hydrogen can be used in advanced systems for efficient power generation produced with near-zero emissions and with the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The synthesis gas (syngas) produced by the gasification of coal and coal/biomass mixtures can be converted by chemical processes to generate clean liquid hydrocarbon fuels. To successfully complete the development of C&CBTL technologies from the present state to the point of commercial readiness, the C&CBTL Program efforts are focused on two Key Technologies: (1) Coal/Biomass Feed and Gasification, and (2) Advanced Fuels Synthesis.

The Coal/Biomass Feed and Gasification Key Technology is advancing scientific knowledge of the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels from coal and/or coal-biomass mixtures. Activities support research for handling and processing of coal/biomass mixtures, ensuring those mixtures are compatible with feed delivery systems, identifying potential impacts on downstream components, catalyst and reactor optimization, and characterizing the range of products and product quality.

The University of Kentucky will advance the design, construction, and operations of a coal/biomass-to-liquids facility at its Center for Applied Energy Research. The facility will have a one barrel per day liquids fuel capacity. This project will develop meaningful research and engineering about the technology and processes, scalability, cost and economics, and the product slate, characteristics, and quality. Coal-to-liquid technology is helping the United States in its quest for energy security and independence and will enable American companies to produce valuable products from domestic coal.

This project is closely aligned with project number DE-FC26-FE0010482 under which The Coal Fuels Alliance, led by the University of Kentucky will advance the design and construction of a Coal/Biomass-to-Liquids Process Development Unit (PDU) facility at its Center for Applied Energy Research.

Project Scope and Technology Readiness Level

The original focus of this project was to design and construct a mini Fischer-Tropsch (FT) refinery utilizing a steam methane reformer. With an early design change, researchers decided to replace the steam methane reformer with a coal-fueled gasifier with a gas separation and clean-up system that would be compatible with an existing FT reactor at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) site. The processing equipment is designed to be interchangeable, where organizations can easily switch components to test novel technologies at a small pilot scale. This will multiply the utility of the Coal/Biomass to Liquid (CBTL) process development unit (PDU) to the community of researchers.

CAER will focus on environmental considerations, particularly management and reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from CBTL facilities and fuel use. The unit is being designed with the following capacities:

University of Kentucky is a member of the Coal Fuels Alliance (CFA), a university partnership to support complementary and joint research focusing on applied and developmental needs for production of liquid fuels from coal. The CFA member institutions also work together to build human capital—the future generation of skilled energy technologists, engineers, and operating personnel that will be needed to sustain the CBTL industry. One of the best ways to create this skills base is to stimulate and fund research and development at appropriate institutions that have the facilities to teach and train students in practical science and engineering applications. The CBTL PDU envisioned at CAER will be used for such training and labor force development.

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) assessment identifies the current state of readiness of the key technologies being developed under the DOE's Clean Coal Research Program. In FY 12, this project was assessed a TRL of 3.

The TRL assessment process and its results including definition and description of the levels may be found in the "2012 Technology Readiness Assessment-Analysis of Active Research Portfolio".


After completing the design of the facility including the Front End Engineering Design (FEED) study and Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&ID), the project team supplied plans to the architecture and engineering consultants, completed the National Environmental Policy Act Environmental Assessment, and selected and entered into collaborative agreements with the technology vendors for each of the principal processing units envisioned for the Coal/Biomass to Liquid (CBTL) process development unit (PDU). Construction of the building is now complete and approved for operation. A need to increase the skid sizes has resulted in an increase from the original 2700 square feet to 4500 square feet of building space. The gasifier has been developed and upon delivery will be installed and tested at University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER).