27 technologies to produce lower carbon fuels from “second chance carbon” — and its practicioners. Who’s doing what, where, when, why and how?

August 20, 2018 |

In the EU, perhaps the most comprehensive and useful guide to fuels and chemicals produced from “Recycled carbon fuels”, such as those produced from waste plastics or waste industrial gases, appeared from the gurus at E4Tech. And, there’s the world of alternative fuels and chemicals produced from lower-carbon fossil sources such as natural gas. There are alternatives also produced from coal.

Are they sustainable — at all? To what extent? E4tech recently carried out a study for the UK Department for Transport which describes these fuels, identifies sustainability impacts, proposes a framework for the assessment of their lifecycle GHG emissions, and assesses broad categories of alternative fossil fuels against this framework.

A key conclusion of the report is that to understand the real world emissions of “recycled carbon fuels”, the lifecycle assessment needs to account for where the carbon would otherwise have been destined, had it not been used to make a new fuel product.

Meanwhile, let’s look in this excerpt at the 27 categories and all the current players. But by all means, download the complete report here — it’s concise, lucid and authoritative.

(Note, in the excerpts below, TRL refers to Technical Readiness Level).

Fuels produced from waste plastic / rubber 

Diesel, jet and gasoline by pyrolysis and upgrading 

In pyrolysis, materials are thermochemically depolymerised at elevated temperatures and in the absence of oxygen. The resulting pyrolysis oil can then be refined (“upgraded”) intdiesel, jet and naphtha and other chemicals. 

Almost two dozen companies exist globally (including in Europe, the USA and Australia), constructing or operating over 100 facilities, targeting pyrolysis of mixed/non-recyclable plastic wastes tproduce either heat and power or liquid fuels. The company case studies therefore focus on those companies active in the UK. TRL for waste plastics toil for heating and power applications is high (TRL 8-9 in many cases) but upgrading ttransport fuels is less developed (TRL 5-7). 

Case study companies:

Recycling Technologies (TRL 6).
Pilot plant in operation at Swindon Borough Council UK – processing up t7,000 t/year int5,200 t/year of product. Process all categories of plastic including non-recyclables intcrude-oil like 

products (trade named Plaxx) of three grades: naphtha equivalent, fuel oils, paraffinic waxes. None of these products are currently marketed as road transport fuels. In 2016 announced that commercial scale production was reached.

Cynar (TRL 6).
Cynar constructed a full-scale plant in Ireland in 2010. Process plastics (grades 4, 5, 6) intpyrolysis oil and then fuels. Cynar agreed a deal with Suez Sita UK tbuild 10 facilities, but then left the agreement. Only one plant in Avonmouth was constructed and Cynar went into administration in 2016.13

Integrated Green Energy Solutions (formerly FOY group)  (TRL 7).
In April 2017 signed a US$90 million funding commitment for rollout of 4 commercial sites in the UK with Structured Growth Capital, Inc. Each site is expected tprocess 200 t/day of plastic int70M litres per year of product14 

In late 2017 announced plans tinvest in a plastics-to-fuel plant in Grimsby producing 69 ML/year of fuel from non-recyclable plastic15 

Pyreco (TRL 5).
In 2011 had plans tbuild plant in Teesside tproduce pyrolysis oil & gas. However no evidence that this started up (2013 struggling with funding for the £80M plant)

Anergy  (TRL 9 for electricity applications, likely TRL 6 for transport fuels)
Globally active, with over 200 installations in over 50 countries17, Anergy provides fixed installation of high-temperature pyrolysis: larger plant (in 3 MWe modules) as well as 250 kW-1MWe semi-portable units constructed within shipping containers. 

Plastic Energy (TRL 7)
Headquartered in the UK, with 2 plants in Spain producing pyrolysis oil that is upgraded to inputs for chemicals industry and transport fuels. Feedstock is mixed plastics, mostly contaminated post-consumer plastic waste.  

Tourian (TRL 5). 

Targeting diesel/gasoline production from plastics foils and films in Tees Valley 

Diesel, jet, gasoline by thermal depolymerisation and upgrading 

Thermal depolymerisation (sometimes also referred to as hydrothermal upgrading) uses hydrous pyrolysis to decompose long chain polymers into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons in the form of pyrolysis oil, which can then be refined (“upgraded”) intdiesel, jet and gasoline and other chemicals. 

Case study examples: 

Vadxx (USA) (TRL 7)

$25M commercial scale demonstrator plant started operation in 2017 at 25% of capacity. Full capacity operation in 2018 expected tbe 23,000 t/year of waste processed. Process a mix of post-industrial and post-consumer waste plastics intliquid transport fuel and lubricants / waxes. Pilot plant at 1/50th of commercial scale was operated for 4 years, also in Ohio. 

Diesel, jet, gasoline or methanol by gasification of waste plastics + catalytic conversion 

Waste plastic can be gasified tproduce syngas, which can then either undergwater-gas-shift tyield hydrogen or can be further transformed intSNG, methanol or Fischer-Tropsch liquids. While waste plastics are gasified within the mixed MSW stream processed by companies such as Enerkem, there dnot appear tbe many developers pursuing gasification of isolated plastics. This may be because the techno-economics of gasification of this feedstock dnot appear tbe very favourable.

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