[Gasification] lanzatech buys closed range fuels plant, for , 5.1mil

doug.williams Doug.Williams at orcon.net.nz
Mon Jan 30 04:42:23 CST 2012

Hi Peter and Gasification Colleagues,

Hi  All,

Sorry for the slightly tardy response as I have been indisposed.

Peter responded quickly, and advised the delay directly to me.

Doug has asked some specific questions of me which I will attempt to respond as well as giving some additional information, I have cut surplus text out simply to reduce clutter, so if the context is unclear you will need to refer to the original message.

In asking the questions that arose from this exchange, it was to seek clarification of what can be taken out of context by a person with less technical experience.

Firstly however I would like to make very clear that we are not looking for opportunities to promote our technology for commercial purposes at this time. We are fully occupied and not taking on additional projects till existing ones are completed. 

>From the perspective of keeping your head down and out of sight to get on with the work great, but if you do have a new technology approach to gasification, then you should at least show it as it evolves, warts and all(:-)

We are only too aware that people can be disappointed when we cannot supply services on demand. This is why we do not have a website. 

Seeking wider credibility is not a priority of ours, we have nationally and globally significant companies seeking us out of their own accord and projects developing with some of these, often preceded by 2 years of due diligence on their part. Commercial success if and when these private companies decide to release their findings is the ultimate arbiter. 

I think this is great when companies come to you without asking. They usually come with expectations however, for inappropriate fuels if they are like most interested in obtaining technolgy.

The company who performed the independent testing is Benzaco Scientific Pty Ltd based in Wollongong NSW Australia, the chief scientist is Chris Owen who has over 40 years of practical industry experience as an industrial chemist.  I don't post other peoples email details on open forums but if anyone wants to contact him I am happy to pass your details along.

As a commercial activity, just Google them like I did  and get all contact details if you want a gas analysis.

Yes we are familiar with both indirect and direct gasification. We refer to our gas as syngas simply because in quality it is a closer description of it even though it is from a naturally aspirated gasifier. We use the 6.5Mj figure because this is a conservative average of what has been measured from our system across a range of feed stocks with reasonable moisture contents. For clean  wood chips at around 25% mc the figure is over 7Mj/m3. We have a lab certificate showing this, which I have already passed on to Doug.

Yes, I can confirm this, but it is a very unusual analysis from a air gasification process. I have issues with analysis quoted without flow rates, and only measured at full output. That may be appropriate for a fixed output gasifier, but if for variable output engine power generation, staged output tests need to be done.

The original aim when we built this system was to obtain consistent output using ordinary, readily available, wood chips and indeed we achieved this 4 years ago with similar results to Doug's  "linear 1" posted recently. The result was within the upper bounds of the literature and we were quite satisfied.

As a report on the first test of the "Linear 1" in November, we have since found that fine tuning can change gas analysis in an eye blink, as can differing feed stock. I'd be very diligent with follow up testing until you can get your own on line analyser, and see the fluctuations as they happen.
The subsequent gas quality improvement came as a result of a happy accident following observations of anomalies in the form of unexplained " hot spots" which we initially blamed on poor craftsmanship and the use of second hand materials. if we had used new professionally fabricated  materials from the outset we might never have noticed these or made the discoveries that followed, and would have gone on accepting the literature as being the limit of what could be achieved.

I am a true believer of recycled materials.

Doug asks about specifications for producer gas to liquid fuel conversion.  The only practical requirements I have been informed of is the need for starting with very low tar gas with a CO/H2 ratio as close to 1:1 as possible. From such a starting point most things can be adjusted with readily available ancillary equipment to suit the application.

My question arose from you saying Lanzatech could order a bottle of gas, and I asked to what specification, because they had no knowledge of producer gas, or it's variations.

I understand that 4 years ago Lanzatech was granted the whole NZ biofuels research budget of $12 million, so a $300 bill might have been overlooked. My main point is even with this sum of money they  still did not set up any successful commercial scale pilot plant that I am aware of. Though one would assume they must have something since they seem to have attracted tens of millions of $ more since.

Outside of my scope to comment, and have no interest in following any ones progress outside of gasification.

As someone who has been directly involved in steel industry research I do not accept the argument that this industry was too difficult to get the CO from, more so once a couple of million in research dollars is on the table. 

I offered an opinion based on how ignorant Health and Safety officials would see the risks involved, easier to just move on quickly to a more friendly place to do business I guess. However, I know they were instructed by the USA venture capital to go the biomass gasification route, because it had a wider appeal, especially using agricultural wastes. They were mortified when I explained the difficulties of gasifying waste full of silica, like rice husks and palm oil plantation biomass. I hope I am totally wrong about that, but we will see in time as I said, and as they have a steel mill hooked up and almost ready to go in China, we might see a very good outcome for one and all.

As an example in order to offset a realistic portion of the the fossil carbon used directly in smelting just for the Australian steel industry (<1% of the global production) requires some 2 million tonnes of organic charcoal per year (@>85% fixed carbon so low temp biochar makers need not apply) . The industry itself has an urgent need to clean up its emissions and the idea of doing so whilst generating an additional desirable product (liquid fuels) without needing to alter other aspects of its "business as usual" and resorting to felling a billion tonnes of forest is a powerful driver.  If a company cannot leverage multi million dollar grants being given to it to set up a pilot plant with a willing customer then there is something we are not being told.

I'm sure we could have a lot to talk about over a beer, but if you are not involved with these industries at a very high level, yes, there are a lot of things you don't get told.  Renewable biomass based energy has no friends in Canberra at the moment.

,Doug, your observations of pictures from an old presentation that the flare shown contains tars are quite correct, and I had a good laugh at myself over this as I knew it was inevitable that some knowledgeable person would pick it up, and I thank you for recognising and giving the opportunity to put these in context. The gas analysis referred to was not taken from the flare you have seen in these photo's.

I have no problem with that, but when presenting "stuff" to others, the obligation is on you to be explicitly clear on what is being shown, and I hope you would have had supplementary comment in your voice over. 

We don't seek speaking opportunities, but have been asked on a number of occasions to give public updates on our work by others who are familiar with us, and consider what we are doing to be important.  The problem I found was that when you put in a photo of a transparent flare in a presentation people don't accept it is anything other than a mechanical image of the flare head, just part of the equipment...coloured gas flares have more impact since they clearly show combustible gas whilst giving a good indication of gas volumes at the same time.  Some of these images are from early testing, some from quite problematic materials that in ordinary gasifiers don't work at all.  It is compounded by a simple "one size fits all" flare head that is inefficient at fuel/air mixing so sometimes gives off secondary colour as combustion products get converted to other forms inside the flame zone and then combust at its edges when they again meet free oxygen. 

I hope others reading this will take note, that producer gas flares provide instant feed-back on gas quality. 

 Also until  recently we never had any form of filtering other than a crude drum cooler so carbon black and entrained fine ash can add variety to the flame depending on fan pressure, the new particulate cyclones we have now fitted have largely addressed the latter.

Cyclones at best reduce particulates down to around 10 micron, and don't collect sub-micron carbon blacks at all. You will need to reduce their quantity if using the gas hot, but a lot will drop out with the aqueous condensate if you have a cooling system. If you haven't done emission tests yet, that is an expense for which you will need to budget.

The gas quality referred to is from clean wood chips after the system reached stable operating temperature, at a fixed gas flow rate, generally reached within 30 minutes from a cold start, the flare is usually transparent in daylight at this point, and is then maintained as long as wood fuel is kept up to the system. Though gas that can self sustain a flare is normally produced within a couple of minutes. There were no easily detectable tars present during this phase  on this type of woody material and the energy content reported does not include any condensable fractions.

Our gasifier can produce condensates on start-up or with sub optimal fuels such as high moisture >30%,  (we have successfully gasified up to 40%mc, albeit resulting in low btu gas and a condensate)  or whole tree chips including bark and leaves. Very fine particle sizes or high moisture adversely affects flow and heat transfer inside the hearth. Even so condensates are not usually particularly excessive, 1 to 2 litres per 100kg of wood chips in a repeated stop and start mode when testing various chip types, even when it is raining.

If condensate is only 1-2 litres/100kg of fuel, it has to be travelling with the gas output, because you can never crack all the water out. You make no mention of actually having gas cooling, so is that incorporated in the componentry, or considered on an as required basis at this stage of your work?

Take a look at:

Nice presentation, but two things caught my eye. The biochar was not sooty and he got no carbon blacks attracted to his bare fingers. This means it is not activated reduction char, and more likely just the harder oxidation char. Do you have any explanation, or was it that the species made a very hard charcoal? Most hardwoods do, but then sooting should still be present.

There is a video link on the page  to the right of the first photo (labelled Biochar video) which has a shot within it of one of our development units being flared ten minutes after start up on whole tree chips (including leaves). We did not produce this video and had no editorial control over content, beyond a general approval to use footage they took on our site during their visit. During this testing 20 biomass samples were run over 3 days and 30 hours of operation. Gas samples were taken at 30 minutes after each restart. Not all had transparent flares, particularly those with a high percentage of fines in the feed stocks as in this case, but for the purpose of the video it is dramatic for the average viewer, and leads to an immediate understanding that potential energy is present.

With so many tests done with these variations of fuel, the gas analysis would certainly be variations of your original test analysis. 

We are not hiding and have never done so, we don't have investors and so have no need to issue press releases to satisfy them. The research organisations over here are well aware of our presence and capacity, and offers to collaborate were given them well before they set any research priorities. We have now moved on.

The time frame of events is of little interest to most people reading this, and if you don't need these types of demonstrations, all well and good. It would appear to me however, that on your own, you would not have the opportunity to have access to projects as shown on the video. 

We have in the past received nasty phone calls from unidentified people and been accused of threatening millions of dollars of research funds and that we should "pull our heads in" as "we don't know how the real world works". My personal favourite comment came from a government bureaucrat "Your problem is you are 5 years ahead of where policy and industry wants you to be..."!

Well, some nasty people are involved with gasification, and it comes as no surprise they might try to intimidate you. If you are not seeking public funding, then no worry mate!
Remember that Fluidyne started  gasification in 1976, knowing that the real crunch was predicted to be in 2008, now come and gone. Australia has far more resources than NZ, so don't give up your daytime job just yet, as I told a guy today that I thought it would be at least another 10 years away (:-)  

The issue I mentioned where a prominent research institution "... weren't allowed to help us" is not fixable by naming the scientist involved, and it is not about being game, it is about respect for the situation of other people. The statement was given without malice or arrogance, it is the system that is the problem and damaging the careers of otherwise dedicated people is not going to fix it.

How we write about things doesn't always come across in the same way to all, but when any one in a public service job fails to provide the service of his job, then I would certainly go above him and ask why. If he was as dedicated as one might hope, he should have told you off the record why the system had issues with your technology. 

I do reserve the right to vent occasionally, even if ineffectual or not agreed with. You might forgive my cynicism  when I see  millions from the public purse and ill informed investors being wasted in the process of "wealth redistribution", and at least here in OZ often involving the same handful of people who keep re-badging themselves after failures in order to get their snouts back in the trough.

This is the same in most countries, and we all want a revolutionary change. 

At the end of the day though we recognise that ultimately the problems of small scale gasification are much less to do with machinations of some professional researchers and corporate s and more to do with the difficulties of building safe, easily replicated and reliable systems matched to biomass resource and local skills.  Solving the real problem is our main focus.

As it is with us all working with gasification, but thanks for having an open discussion on some of your experiences so far, and when I get a minute, I'll dig out a few pointers on taking those gas analysis samples.

Doug Williams,

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