Exploration and Production Technologies

Production and Demonstration of Synthesis Gas-Derived Fuels

DE-FC26-01NT41099

Project Goal
The goal of the project was to demonstrate a gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant that will produce ultraclean synthetic fuels for testing in stationary engines and fleet vehicles in Washington, D.C., and Denali National Park in Alaska. A small-footprint plant (SFP) will enable the economical use of remote natural gas reserves in Alaska, which currently are not economically feasible to develop. Synthetic fuels made from natural gas and methane can help the country's transportation industry meet the new EPA emission regulations set to go into effect in 2006. 

Performers
Integrated Concepts and Research Corporation (ICRC)
Madison Heights, MI

Syntroleum Corporation
Tulsa, OK

Marathon Oil Corp.
Houston, TX

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA

National Park Service
Washington, DC

University of Alaska-Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
Washington, DC

West Virginia University)
Morgantown, WV

Tiax, LLC
Cambridge, MA

Project Results
A modular SFP GTL plant was constructed, and an ultraclean, near-zero-sulfur diesel fuel was produced for fleet testing in Denali National Park and Washington, as well as in stationary engines in rural Alaska. Fuel test data and cost of production of the fuel were evaluated as well as demonstration of the fuel's practicality in commercial settings.

Among the project's milestones:

  • An SFP pilot was dedicated in October 2003.
  • The first fuel was shipped from the plant in April 2004.
  • Fleet testing in Denali National Park was carried out during the summer of 2004. When planned testing was completed at the end of the park's summer season, the park asked to extend the testing into the winter months.
  • Fleet testing in Washington started in September 2004 and was completed in April 2005.
  • Fuel testing in a stationary diesel generator, sized to supply power for more than 50 homes, started in August 2004 and was completed in February 2005.
  • Dynamometer testing was completed in March 2005.
  • Fuel production was completed in March 2005.
  • The well-to-wheels efficiency and economics analyses, including information specific to Alaska, were completed in February 2006.

Benefits
This project has potential for significant breakthroughs in dveloping clean transportation fuels from stranded natural gas through successful SFP demonstration and fleet vehicle test of fuel. Among the benefts of the project are:

  • Demonstrating the beneficial use of natural gas resources that are otherwise stranded (monetize stranded gas).
  • Potential to provide strategic fuel supplies during emergency situations.
  • Demonstrating a process that could potentially use coal fines and refinery wastes for feedstock.
  • Producing an environmentally friendly natural gas-to-liquids fuel that could be used in current transportation applications.

Background
Fischer-Tropsch (FT) processes for conversion of GTL has been commercial for decades, requiring large, capital-intensive plants where the cost per barrel of daily product was greater than $25,000 per barrel per day. This project was to demonstrate viability of an small-footprint GTL plant that could be sited near stranded (low-value or remote) fuel feedstocks) and therefore monetize the fossil fuel to a high-value liquid fuel. The fuel was to be evaluated for commercial applications (engine wear, emissions, mileage cost) vs. other diesel fuels.

A well-to-wheels economic evaluation of moving a small GTL plant to a variety of stranded fossil fuel feedstocks would help determine viability of the technology. Many fossil fuels are located in hard to access places, which make them uneconomic as feedstocks. Other sources, such as coal fines, refinery wastes, and landfill gases, are generally economic burdens and environmental hazards and thus are currently unsuitable for use as energy resources. The ability to move an SFP into these locations will result in these currently useless resources being converted to high-cetane, ultraclean fuels, with non-detectable sulfur and aromatic levels, for both production engines and advanced engine technologies.

These hydrogen-saturated synthetic fuels have been shown to reduce harmful emissions by substantial amounts in stationary vehicular engine tests. However, longer-term tests are needed to demonstrate the fuel's practicality in commercial settings.

Project Summary
The focus of this project is to design, build, and operate a modular SFP to convert natural gas, via FT and hydroprocessing reactions, into hydrogen-saturated diesel fuels and to test those fuels in various types of engines. The SFP was designed and built to be modular and mobile so it can be moved and easily modified to take advantage of diverse feedstocks. The plant is built to take advantage of future environmental economic incentives by reducing vented natural gas and using it as a feedstock. Carbon dioxide emissions also are reduced by simultaneously sequestering the CO2 and using it for enhanced oil recovery. 

The SFP diesel fuel was tested in a variety of engines and vehicles to ensure that use of the product results in acceptable compatibility with fuel injection system components and improved emissions. The SFP diesel fuel was also tested to demonstrate compatibility with exhaust-after-treatment emission control systems.

The WMATA and Denali National Park bus fleets were chosen to evaluate SFP fuels because they represent nearly opposite ends of several spectra, including climate, topography, engine load factor, mean distance between stops, and composition of locally used conventional diesel fuel. Also, the managers of these fleets share the strong desire to participate in a program aimed at minimizing exhaust emissions, especially those emissions that are most apparent to riders, people in other vehicles, and bystanders. 

The final stage of the project has been to perform an economic analysis on the data obtained from the project to predict commercial viability of the fuel and SFP process, including within the remote areas of Alaska, where the logistics of supplying conventional petroleum-derived diesel fuel can be extremely challenging. Fuel test data and cost data, derived in part from construction and operation of the Syntroleum SFP, have been used to develop a well-to-wheels economic analysis. The economic analysis includes likely market thresholds for an eventual substitution of synthesis gas-derived ultraclean fuels for conventional fuels. While already attractive from an environmental perspective, these ultraclean fuels also are expected to become more economically competitive. Conventional fuels are increasingly derived from “sour” crudes that are more costly to refine. Since U.S. oil needs are projected to rise, and refining costs are increasing, the market price of fuel is expected to continue to climb.

Current Status (June 2006)
All of the fuel testing (dynamometer, fleet, stationary generator, and emission) has been completed. Analysis of economics has also been completed, and reports are being prepared.

This project included over-the-road commercial bus tests in Washington, DC, and Alaska, cold-starting and cold-operation testing, evaluations of after-treatment systems, use of exhaust gas recirculation, and varied injection timing. More extensive testing is particularly relevant for evaluating emissions reduction, drive-train efficiency, fuel blends, and additives.

Project Start: July 1, 2001
Project End: June 30, 2006

DOE Contribution: $18,881,000
Performer Contributions: $ 44,000,000 (70% of total)

Contact Information
NETL - Chandra Nautiyal (chandra.nautiyal@netl.doe.gov or 918-699-2021)
ICRC - Kevin Mulrenin (kmulrenin@icrc-detroit.net or 586-799-1271)
Syntroleum Corp. - Jon Warzel (jwarzel@syntroleum.com or 918- 592-7900)

Photo captions


Fleet test in Denali National park summer 2004.


Fleet test in Washington D.C. in September 2004.


Synthesis gas-derived clean fuels.

 
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