EnerTech operates the "SlurryCarb" process, which uses similar technology to decarboxylate wet solid biowaste, which can then be physically dewatered and used as a solid fuel called E-Fuel. The plant at Rialto, California is said to be able to process 683 tons of waste per day.
The Hydro Thermal Upgrading (HTU) process was originally developed by Shell, and is now operated by Biofuel BV. It uses superheated water to produce oil from a range of biomass and domestic waste. A demonstration plant is due to start up in the Netherlands said to be capable of processing 64 tons of biomass (dry basis) per day into oil. Thermal depolymerisation differs in that it contains a hydrous process followed by an anhydrous cracking / distillation process, although upgrading of the raw HTU product is also possible.
Thermal depolymerization is similar to the geological processes that produced the fossil fuels used today, except that the technological process occurs in a timeframe measured in hours. Until recently, the human-designed processes were not efficient enough to serve as a practical source of fuel—more energy was required than was produced.
Many previous methods which create hydrocarbons through depolymerization used dry materials (or anhydrous pyrolysis), which requires expending a lot of energy to remove water. However, there has been work done on hydrous pyrolysis methods, in which the depolymerization takes place with the materials in water. In U. S. patent 2,177,557, issued in 1939, Bergstrom and Cederquist discuss a method for obtaining oil from wood in which the wood is heated under pressure in water with a significant amount of calcium hydroxide added to the mixture. In the early 1970s Herbert R. Appell and coworkers worked with hydrous pyrolysis methods, as exemplified by U. S. patent 3,733,255 (issued in 1973), which discusses the production of oil from sewer sludge and municipal refuse by heating the material in water, under pressure, and in the presence of carbon monoxide.
An approach that exceeded break-even was developed by Illinois microbiologist Paul Baskis in the 1980s and refined over the next 15 years (see U. S. patent 5,269,947, issued in 1993). The technology was finally developed for commercial use in 1996 by Changing World Technologies (CWT). Brian S. Appel (CEO of CWT) took the technology in 2001 and expanded and changed it into what is now referred to as TCP (Thermal Conversion Process), and has applied for several patents (see, for example, published patent application US 2004/0192980). A Thermal Depolymerization demonstration plant was completed in 1999 in Philadelphia by Thermal Depolymerization, LLC, and the first full-scale commercial plant was constructed in Carthage, Missouri, about 100 yards (100 m) from ConAgra Foods' massive Butterball turkey plant, where it is expected to process about 200 tons of turkey waste into 500 barrels (21,000 US gallons or 80 m³) of oil per day.
In the method used by CWT, the water improves the heating process and contributes hydrogen to the reactions.
In the Changing World Technologies (CWT) process, the feedstock material is first ground into small chunks, and mixed with water if it is especially dry. It is then fed into a pressure vessel reaction chamber where it is heated at constant volume to around 250 °C. Similar to a pressure cooker (except at much higher pressure), steam naturally raises the pressure to 600 psi (4 MPa) (near the point of saturated water). These conditions are held for approximately 15 minutes to fully heat the mixture, after which the pressure is rapidly released to boil off most of the water (see: Flash evaporation). The result is a mix of crude hydrocarbons and solid minerals. The minerals are removed, and the hydrocarbons are sent to a second-stage reactor where they are heated to 500 °C, further breaking down the longer hydrocarbon chains. The hydrocarbons are then sorted by fractional distillation, in a process similar to conventional oil refining.
The CWT company claims that 15 to 20% of feedstock energy is used to provide energy for the plant. The remaining energy is available in the converted product. Working with turkey offal as the feedstock, the process proved to have yield efficiencies of approximately 85%; in other words, the energy contained in the end products of the process is 85% of the energy contained in the inputs to the process (most notably the energy content of the feedstock, but also including electricity for pumps and natural gas or woodgas for heating). If one considers the energy content of the feedstock to be free (i.e., waste material from some other process), then 85 units of energy are made available for every 15 units of energy consumed in process heat and electricity. This means the "Energy Returned on Energy Invested" (EROEI) is (6.67), which is comparable to other energy harvesting processes. Higher efficiencies may be possible with drier and more carbon-rich feedstocks, such as waste plastic.
By comparison, the current processes used to produce ethanol and biodiesel from agricultural sources have EROEI in the 4.2 range, when the energy used to produce the feedstocks is accounted for (in this case, usually sugar cane, corn, soybeans and the like). These EROEI values are not directly comparable, because these EROEI calculations include the energy cost to produce the feedstock, whereas the above EROEI calculation for thermal depolymerization process (TDP) does not.
The process breaks down almost all materials that are fed into it. TDP even efficiently breaks down many types of hazardous materials, such as poisons and difficult-to-destroy biological agents such as prions.
|Feedstock||Oils||Gases||Solids (mostly carbon based)||Water (Steam)|
(Note: Paper/cellulose contains at least 1% minerals, which was probably grouped under carbon solids.)
The Carthage, MO plant produces API 40+, a high value crude oil comparable to diesel fuel. It contains light and heavy naphthas, a kerosene, and a gas oil fraction, with essentially no heavy fuel oils, tars, asphaltenes or waxes present.
|Output Material||% by Weight|
The fixed carbon solids produced by the TDP process have multiple uses as a filter, a fuel source and a fertilizer. It can be used as activated carbon in wastewater treatment, as a fertilizer, or as a fuel similar to coal.
Plants photosynthesize organic matter from water and carbon dioxide - which has been released into the atmosphere in large quantities from the burning of fossil fuels since the start of industrialization. At least in theory, these spent fossil fuels can be fully recycled by thermal depolymerization, using plant organic matter as input material.
Despite the somewhat similar output materials, the technical process of thermal depolymerization is quite different from biomass-to-liquid biofuel production, as the former yields mineral oils that can be refined into petrol, while the latter produces synfuels which are of inferior quality for current internal combustion engines.
Whether thermal depolymerization of plantstuffs can alleviate the growing scarcity of crude oil is unproven however. A potential benefit is that as opposed to animal waste, the water content of plant matierals - which typically is very high, in excess of 80 or even 90% - can be reduced by drying with less risk of spoilage. As noted above, the possibility of using plant matter as input material has been proven. It was found though that when using fairly pure cellulose fibers the output consists of considerably more natural gas than mineral oils, compared to other input materials.
The plant then consumed 270 tons of turkey offal (the full output of the turkey processing plant) and 20 tons of egg production waste daily. According to a 2/1/2005 article by Fortune Magazine, the Carthage plant was producing about of crude oil. This oil is being refined as No. 2 (a standard grade oil which is used for diesel and residential heating oil) and No. 4 (a lower grade oil used in industrial heating).
In April 2005 the plant was reported to be running at a loss. Further 2005 reports summarized some economic setbacks which the Carthage plant encountered since its planning stages. It was thought that concern over mad cow disease would prevent the use of turkey waste and other animal products as cattle feed, and thus this waste would be free. As it turned out, turkey waste may still be used as feed in the United States, so that the facility must purchase that feed stock at a cost of $30 to $40 per ton, adding $15 to $20 per barrel to the cost of the oil. Final cost, as of January 2005, was $80/barrel ($1.90/gal).
The above cost of production also excludes the operating cost of the thermal oxidizer and scrubber added in May 2005 in response to odor complaints (see below).
A biofuel tax credit of roughly $1 per US gallon (26 ¢/L) on production costs was not available because the oil produced did not meet the definition of "biodiesel" according to the relevant American tax legislation. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 specifically added thermal depolymerization to a $1 renewable diesel credit, which became effective at the end of 2005.
As reported on 04/02/2006 by Discover Magazine, the Carthage plant was producing of oil made from 270 tons of turkey guts and 20 tons of pig fat. A federal subsidy (the Energy Policy Act of 2005) allowed a profit of $4/barrel of output oil.
According to a company spokeswoman, the plant has received complaints even on days when it is not operating. She also contended that the odors may not have been produced by their facility, which is located near several other agricultural processing plants.
As of August 24, 2006, the last lawsuit connected with the odor issue has been dismissed and the problem is acknowledged as fixed. In late November, however, another complaint was filed over bad smells. This complaint was closed on January 11th of 2007 with no fines assessed.
However, as of August 2008, the only operational plant listed at the company's website is the initial one in Carthage, Missouri.
Changing World Technology applied for an IPO on 12 Aug 2008, hoping to raise $100 million.
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