My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: SOLAR-JET Project and Fischer–Tropsch Process means Fossil Fuel a Renewable Resource by 2017

Saturday, June 7, 2014

SOLAR-JET Project and Fischer–Tropsch Process means Fossil Fuel a Renewable Resource by 2017

“Increasing environmental and supply security issues are leading the aviation sector to seek alternative fuels which can be used interchangeably with today's jet fuel, so-called drop-in solution. With this first-ever proof-of-concept for 'solar' kerosene, the SOLAR-JET project has made a major step towards truly sustainable fuels with virtually unlimited feedstocks in the future”

Project Coordinator at Bauhaus Luftfahrt, Dr. Andreas Sizmann commenting on the potential of the SOLAR-JET Project's use of the Fischer–Tropsch Process to make Kerosene from Carbon Dioxide, Water Vapour and Sunlight

It is now possible to make Kerosene from Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)), Water Vapour (H2O(g)) and Sunlight as heralded in the article ““Solar” jet fuel created from water and Carbon Dioxide”, published May 1, 2014 By Meg Alexander, Gizmag

All thanks to a Research Team from EU (European Union)-backed SOLAR-JET Project finally figuring out a practical way to implement the well-known Fischer–Tropsch Process, which was invented by the chemists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch in Germany in the mid 1920s.

The SOLAR-JET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) was kickstarted in June 2011 with financial support for the next four (4) years from the EU (European Union) within the 7th Framework Programme. Their success in producing Syngas is now a Proof-of-concept idea that will put the European Union in the forefront of research and production of Fossil Fuels directly from concentrated solar energy, effectively making it a renewable Resource.

The SOLAR-JET Project as described in “Synthesized 'solar' jet fuel: Renewable kerosene from sunlight, water and Carbon Dioxide”, published  May 3 2014 by ETH Zurich, Science Daily consists of the following players, who all have a common goal of producing a sustainable way of making Fossil Fuels using Sunlight:

1.      Bauhaus Luftfahrt
2.      Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
3.      ARTTIC
4.      Shell Global Solutions
5.      Swiss University ETH Zurich

This by overcoming two technical problems that have dogged the practical implementation of the Fischer–Tropsch Process in the production of Synthetic Gas of Syngas for short:

1.      Disassociation of Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) and Water (H2O(g)) into Hydrogen (H2(g)), Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)) and Oxygen (O2(g)) using Sunlight
2.      Removal of Oxygen (O2(g)) from the reaction, as its presence causes the Fischer–Tropsch Process reactor vessel to Explode

Production of SynGas was always the problem for the well established Fischer–Tropsch Process to produce Kerosene. This was the hurdle that the SOLAR-JET Project had overcome. Granted, the Research Team from the SOLAR-JET Project only made one glassful of Kerosene. Still, we humans now have perfected the Fischer–Tropsch Process, a tool that can close the Krebb Cycle and Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) Cycle sans Plants and algae or genetically modified Bacteria as described in my blog article entitled “Pyrococcusfuriosus Bacterium Bio-engineered by University of Georgia’s to convert Carbon Dioxide to Bio-fuel - Carbon Sequestering profitable  Hunger Games Catching”!

But depending on how you view your glass, it can be half full of potential or half empty promises of a future where any Fuel can literally, be made out of thin Greenhouse Gases in the Air.

Fischer–Tropsch Process – Syngas and how Oxygen is only good if it’s Oprah Winfrey’s Channel

So how did they do it? First watch the video below as it explains the production of Syngas feedstock to be used in the Fischer–Tropsch Process to produce Kerosene.

The uses concentrated Solar Radiation to convert Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) and Water Vapour (H2O(g)) into Syngas. Syngas is a mixture made up purely of Hydrogen (H2(g)) and Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)) and can be produced from the disassociation of Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) and Water Vapour (H2O(g)) as described in “‘Solar’ jet fuel made out of thin air”, published 2 May 2014 by Jon Cartwright, Chemistry World.

There is a problem however.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) and Water Vapour (H2O(g)) only disassociate at temperatures of about 2200°C in the first process. The SOLAR-JET Team overcame this problem by using a high-flux solar simulator at the Swiss university ETH Zurich, a fairly simple thing to do. Thus Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) and Water Vapour (H2O(g)) becomes Hydrogen (H2(g)), Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)) and Oxygen (O2(g)) as per the equation below.

CO2(g) + H2O(g) →H2(g) + CO(g) + O2(g)

For the next stage, this mixture of Hydrogen (H2(g)), Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)) and Oxygen (O2(g)) now contains Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)), Hydrogen (H2(g)) and Oxygen (O2(g)). To remove the Oxygen (O2(g)) and thus convert it to Syngas, which is made up purely of Hydrogen (H2(g)) and Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)), SOLAR-JET Team employed the use of Cerium(IV) Oxide (CeO2) commercially known as Ceria (CeO2)  to remove the Oxygen (O2(g)). 

Based on my knowledge of making Bamboo Charcoal using Vacuum Pyrolysis as described in my blog article entitled “Jamaica's Bamboo Charcoal exports stalled by lack of Bamboo Furnaces – How to build a Fresnel Lens Solar Powered Bamboo Furnace and produce Activated Charcoal byproduct”, they could have used a Fresnel Lens to focus Sunlight unto the Quartz Glass to achieve temperatures of 2200°C

When Ceria (CeO2) is heated to about 1500°C in a vacuum by concentrated sunlight, Ceria (CeO2) is reduced, releasing Oxygen (O2(g)). Once the Oxygen (O2(g)) is removed from the Second Stage Process Chamber, the Ceria (CeO2) is ready to remove Oxygen (O2(g)) from the disassociated Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)), Hydrogen (H2(g)) and Oxygen (O2(g)) mixture from the first part of the process.

This Second Stage Process is closely monitored for the presence of Oxygen (O2(g)) so as to avoid a massive explosion due to the reaction of the Hydrogen (H2(g)) and the Oxygen (O2(g)), which can result as the disassociated Carbon Monoxide (CO(g)), Hydrogen (H2(g)) and Oxygen (O2(g)) mixture is very hot from the Radiation Energy from the Solar Concentrator and highly reactive.

Ceria (CeO2) can again be reduced using concentrated sunlight back to its Oxygen-Free form, ready for reaction. Because the Disassociation of Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) and Water Vapour (H2O(g)) are produced in the same connected chamber and then rapidly cooled from 2200°C to 1500°C to allow the Ceria (CeO2) to absorb Oxygen (O2) from the reaction.

Once fully reacted, the resulting Syngas passes out the bottom of the outlet chamber and is piped unto the Third Stage Process, the Fischer–Tropsch Process, from which Kerosene is the end result. You can see the video below that explains the Fischer–Tropsch Process.

20,000 Liters of Jet Fuel a day is sure to make many Developed Countries with large Military covet this technology. For Developing World Countries, it could mean the end for the need to import Fossil Fuel and may result in them being able to manufacture their own fuel. It’s a fairly easy petrochemical Engineering Process to convert Kerosene, a lighter faction extracted from the Catalytic Cracking of Petroleum to heavier fuel oils such as Gasoline and Diesel.

Syngas on Tap for Fischer–Tropsch Process – Fossil Fuel a Renewable Resource by 2017

So with this process, it’s been demonstrated that you can literally make Kerosene or Jet Fuel from the same material that plants use in photosynthesis to make Sugars. The feedstock is unlimited too, as our current consumption of Fossil Fuels means that there will be plenty of Carbon Dioxide (CO2(g)) and Water (H2O(g)) to fuel Syngas production to quote one of the researchers on the SOLAR-JET Project at the German think-tank Bauhaus Luftfahrt, Dr. Andreas Sizmann: “Sunlight, Carbon Dioxide and water are basically an unlimited feedstock. When the long term goal of 15% overall energy efficiency is reached, 20,000 litres of kerosene per day could be produced in a solar tower system of one square kilometre.”

Best of all, without having to convert Bio-Mass via the use of Bacteria such as the genetically modified bacterium, Pyrococcusfuriosus  as described in my blog article entitled “Pyrococcusfuriosus Bacterium Bio-engineered by University of Georgia’s to convert Carbon Dioxide to Bio-fuel - Carbon Sequestering profitable  Hunger Games Catching”.

Granted they only made a cup full of Kerosene, with the efficiency of Sunlight to Syngas Production being rated at 1.73%. Still this is a very significant milestone and the stage is set to achieve economy-of-scale according to Dr. Andreas Sizmann, quote: “This is an extremely important milestone in the long-term process of developing a truly sustainable alternative fuel future. The process [draws] from virtually unlimited resources with no prohibitive cost “show stopper” in sight”. Ramping up the efficiency of the Syngas Process is a matter of improving the following:

1.      Improvements in materials used
2.      Reactor geometry
3.      Heat management
4.      Gas management
5.      Reactor Size

According to Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European commissioner for research, innovation and science, the Oil Industry will probably get turned upside down as this can potentially provide fuel for all Vehicles on Earth, quote: “This technology means we might one day produce cleaner and plentiful fuel for planes, cars and other forms of transport. This could greatly increase energy security and turn one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming into a useful resource”.

Shell, a major Oil Drilling company with Petrochemical services geared at producing various products from Oil, is also involved in the SOLAR-JET Project, hopefully with an interest to expand research, not stifle it to quote Professor Hans Geerlings at Shell: “This is potentially a very interesting novel pathway to liquid hydrocarbon fuels using focused solar power. Although the individual steps of the process have previously been demonstrated at various scales, no attempt had been made previously to integrate the end-to-end system. We look forward to working with the project partners to drive forward research and development in the next phase of the project on such an ambitious emerging technology”.

Let’s hope that as other Scientists replicate SOLAR-JET Process of making Syngas around the world, we’ll get a lot closer to this dream of Fossil Fuels as a Renewable Resource by 2017.

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