30 April 2013
Microchannel technology: Velocys Customer Training Centre and Pilot Plant opens
The Oxford Catalyst Group's new Customer Training Centre and Pilot plant, located at the site of the Group's US-based subsidiary, Velocys, Inc. in Plain City, Ohio, USA was officially opened yesterday. The event was attended by prospective customers, suppliers, partner organisations and the press. Visitors were given the opportunity to tour the facility.
The integrated gas-to-liquids (GTL) facility includes microchannel Fischer-Tropsch (FT) and steam methane reforming (SMR) reactors developed by the Oxford Catalysts Group and marketed under the brand name Velocys, as well as a conventional SMR plant provided by the US Air Force. It has been operating since 22 March, and is producing nearly 1 barrel per day of ultra-pure synthetic liquids and waxes. Future plans include adding a microchannel hydroprocessor to the pilot plant to enable the production of finished fuels.
The Velocys Customer Training Centre and Pilot Plant will be used to test commercial plant configurations at commercially relevant operating conditions, as well as for customer operator training. The pilot plant augments the company's previous field demonstrations, including one incorporating a nominal 25 bpd FT unit located at an integrated energy company.
Roy Lipski, CEO Oxford Catalysts Group said:
"We are delighted that the Customer Training Centre and Pilot Plant is now in operation, incorporating our advanced SMR and FT technologies together in an integrated plant. The commissioning of this facility represents another important step in the commercial deployment of our smaller scale GTL solution. It will serve as a training facility for plant operators from customer organisations, as well as providing design data for clients."
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The GTL process
Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) is a process used to convert natural gas into high quality liquid fuels that are totally compatible with petroleum based fuels. These fuels can be used in existing engines and infrastructure. The GTL process involves two main operations: production of a synthesis gas (syngas) via processes such as steam methane reforming (SMR) or autothermal reforming (ATR); followed by Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis. The resulting product can either be blended with crude or upgraded via hydrocracking and fractionation to produce a range of liquid hydrocarbon fuels.
In SMR, methane gas is mixed with steam and passed over a catalyst to produce a synthesis gas (syngas) consisting of hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO). The reaction is highly endothermic, so requires the input of heat. This can be generated by the combustion of the excess H2 or other fuel gas. In ATR, oxygen rather than steam is used as the oxidant to produce the syngas.
In the FT process syngas is converted into paraffinic hydrocarbons over a cobalt catalyst. The process is highly exothermic, or heat generating. The FT product can be blended with crude oil, or upgraded via hydrocracking to produce a range of products including diesel, jet fuel, naphtha and base oils for synthetic lubricants. FT-derived transportation fuels are of higher quality than those derived by conventional means. For example FT diesel has a high cetane number (≥70 compared with a 45 - 55 rating of most refinery diesels), low sulphur (< 5ppm), low aromatics (< 1%) and good cold flow characteristics.
To request a diagram outlining the GTL process, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Microchannel Fischer-Tropsch (FT) reactors
Microchannel FT reactors developed by Oxford Catalysts Group are compact reactors containing thousands of channels with characteristic dimensions in the millimetre range. Process channels, filled with catalyst, are interleaved with water-filled coolant channels. The small-sized channels dissipate heat more quickly than conventional reactors, which have larger tubes in the 2.5-10 cm (1-4 inch) range. Enhanced heat transfer inside the microchannel reactors allows for optimal temperature control, which maximises catalyst activity and life.
The use of microchannel technology makes it possible to overcome the mass and heat transfer limitations of conventional FT reactors and to intensify chemical reactions, enabling them to occur at rates significantly faster than in conventional systems. Capital costs, operating costs and plant size are all reduced relative to conventional FT facilities.
Smaller scale GTL
Conventional GTL technology is only economically viable for plants producing around 30,000 barrels per day (bpd) or more. Only about 6% of the world's known gas fields are large enough to sustain a GTL plant of that size. In contrast, GTL plants being developed by Oxford Catalysts Group are designed to operate efficiently and economically when producing between 1,000 and 15,000 bpd of liquid fuels. GTL at a distributed scale could unlock up to 50% of the remaining fields that conventional GTL cannot economically exploit. In total, smaller scale GTL could produce as much as 25 million barrels per day of synthetic fuels annually, worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Smaller scale GTL plants provide a cost-effective way to take advantage of undervalued resources, such as shale gas and stranded gas located far from existing pipeline infrastructure and markets. The technology provides an economic alternative to the large-scale flaring of associated gas, which is an on-going environmental concern.
Smaller scale GTL plants are built in a modular fashion and can be scaled up to match the gas resource. Investment can be phased. The modular plants are predominantly fabricated in a factory environment, with each unit designed to fit into a standard-sized shipping container for ease of transport. Because roughly 70% of a project is complete before the modules are shipped, the time and cost needed to construct the plant on site is greatly reduced, which is ideal at remote locations where many shale fields and other stranded gas is located. This approach allows good control of the capital cost and engineering quality, a faster project schedule and significantly reduced uncertainties.
Oxford Catalysts Group Technology Field Demonstrations
Oxford Catalysts Group's microchannel reactors and highly active FT catalysts have been proven as commercially ready through a series of laboratory and field demonstration scale projects over the last several years. These include a biomass to liquids (BTL) demonstration project carried out in Güssing, Austria and completed in 2011; and the successful demonstration of a microchannel FT reactor with a nominal capacity of 25 bpd carried out at the site of an integrated energy company in 2012. The Oxford Catalysts Group also is working with the Brazilian multi-national energy corporation, Petrobras, the global engineering firm, Toyo Engineering and offshore facility developers, MODEC, on a demonstration plant for offshore GTL that includes Velocys FT and SMR reactors. Qualification of this demonstration is targeted for the second half of 2013.
The Oxford Catalysts Group
The Oxford Catalysts Group develops and commercialises microchannel reactors and process technology for the conversion of unconventional, remote and problem gas into valuable, clean-burning liquid fuels. It owns, or has exclusive licence to the largest microchannel patent portfolio in the world, encompassing more than 800 patents with more than 25,000 patent claims across the globe. The company has in-house catalyst development and microchannel development teams. Applications for its technology include gas to liquids (GTL), biomass to liquids (BTL) and coal to liquids (CTL).
Systems based on the Group's technology (marketed under the brand name Velocys) are significantly smaller than those using conventional technology. This enables the building of modular plants that can be deployed cost effectively in remote locations and on smaller fields than is possible with competing systems.
Oxford Catalysts Group PLC is listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange (LSE: OCG). The Group has some 85 employees with facilities near Oxford, UK and Columbus, Ohio, USA.