[Gasification] A small literature review re: syngas

doug.williams Doug.Williams at orcon.net.nz
Thu Jan 27 00:13:11 CST 2011

Hi Gerald,

You bring an interesting "slant" to this discussion, and as I initiated it, feel obliged to dig into my files to seek some answers.

>I have followed the discussion on the definition of syngas (synthesis gas) with great interest.  Although there are adamant views that syngas should be narrowly defined, I have yet to see early references that back up this claim.  The term "synthesis gas" appears to have gained popularity during the '40's (possibly before) to describe the raw material for the FT process; however, it quickly became the popular term for manufactured gas. 

There appear to be no reference to syngas in any of my reference material until the FT process, or gas production for chemical feed stock after 40's.

 In the second edition of the iconic Kirk-Othmer, Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, one is directed to the chapter on manufactured gas when looking for synthesis gas (see vol. 10, p. 355, 1966), where it is mentioned to produce synthetic chemicals from the water gas and water gas shift reactions.  In Riegel's, Industrial Chemistry, 1962, a list of synthesis gas methods are listed that mimic manufactured gas and includes gasification with air.  And on p. 892, synthesis gas is simply defined as the mixture of CO and H2.  

This is I think where the terminology may have been taken less importantly by Chemical Engineers who can work with anything, than the Mechanical engineers who actually had more to do with it's manufacture and application as a source of energy.
> I respect the opinion of the members of this list, but could you supply early references to back up your definitions.  I believe that this is an important issue to be cleared up, as there is definite confusion on whether syngas should have a limited definition or a broad definition.

I had to read through considerable material in books, so have taken a few days to assemble a few facts.

In 1961, I rescued four bound volumes (V72 1930, V74 1931, V75 1932, V76 1933) of Power, a monthly magazine for engineers in the power industry, published by McGraw-Hill.
One might expect they also had a similar magazine for the chemical engineers, possibly from a later date.
Having read these books from cover to cover more than once, producer gas is the only term used, for the discussion of making gas using air with steam in the case of coal, and nothing is discussed using high pressure retorts and processes one associates with the term syngas.

These books reported all types of projects for energy production in most countries, including engine development of many kinds, coal processing, boilers, hydro, railways, and shipping. They are also a goldmine of information of new products, patent applications, and people in the industry. Nothing on Chemical Engineering.

Next I consulted the set of books issued in 1954 by "The College of Fuel Technology" for Solid and Gaseous Fuels, the study of which was required to pass the examinations of the City and Guilds of London Institute.  It covers all gas making from coal, and all you need to know about coal as a fuel.  They define producer gas as: A mixture of combustible and non-combustible gases, the proportions of which may vary over wide ranges.

Gas producers are covered in my set of Engineering Works Practice (1950's) published by George Newnes of London, again only producer gas is mentioned. These volumes provide operating instructions for engineers taking charge of factories. In my 1965 copy of Fowlers Mechanical Engineers Pocket Book, producer gas is defined as: Made by passing air, or air and steam through red hot coke, making 34.7% CO, and 65.3 Nitrogen. They quote the water bottom producers as better, free of clinkering problems with, CO2 4.2%, CO 25.2%, H2 22.6%, Nitrogen 44%.

Finally, the 1984 " Small Scale Gas Producer Engine Systems" Albrich Kaupp/John Goss, (ISBN 3-528-02001-6) published by Gate a special division of GTZ, the German Technical Cooperation agency, review the history of gasification, and review nearly 600 papers, but syngas is not covered at all, because all producer gas as we have come to understand it, contains nitrogen. This publication is also the source from which I extracted the analysis of Pyrolisis Gases and chemical content requested by Dr Karve, which was sent directly to him.

There would appear to be a need for closer scrutiny of any process that describes it's gas as syngas, which clearly is used to jolly up the unsuspecting investors. I didn't invent either term, but at some point in time, someone lumped the two process incorrectly, and it has continued due to lack of attention to the non-combustible gas content. While we may seek accountability from those with failed projects, it is more important to have accountability before an event, because it prevents incorrect presentation., that is "IF"the scrutiny can be applied. Having said all that, possibly more interest in the differences will emerge, and some correction made to how we should describe what we do.

It might help this discussion, if anyone can identify functioning chemical processes that use producer gas with nitrogen content as feedstock,

Hope this may be of assistance.
Doug Williams,
Fluidyne Gasification.

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