Dig their Big Rig: Licella commissions world’s largest operating hydrothermal liquefaction facility

September 14, 2021 |

Licella commissions world’s largest operating hydrothermal liquefaction facility 

In Australia, Licella has completed initial commissioning of its upgraded Cat-HTR commercial-demonstration plant. The Commercial Stage 1 facility is co-owned with Canadian Forest Products Ltd. (Canfor), a global leader in the manufacturing of sustainable forest products, through its joint venture, Arbios Biotech. It is built around the core of Licella’s large pilot plant on the NSW Central Coast (Australia), utilizing its commercial-scale Cat-HTR reactors. 

Cat-HTR stands for Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor, the company’s pioneering hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) technology is now the world’s largest of its type.

CS-1 Cat-HTR is a powerful decarbonization platform that produces high value, low-carbon products, such as renewable transportation fuels and biochemicals.  The CS-1 facility represents a universal HTL platform that has the ability to process the widest range of post-consumer biomass residues and plastics in the world. 

High Carbon Efficiency 

Older thermal upgrading technologies, such as pyrolysis and gasification, were developed in a less carbon-constrained world, the Cat-HTR has been developed to retain as much carbon in its products as possible. This results in a higher efficiency process which produces a high quality, stable and energy dense oil. 

The Competitive Edge

By using water to control the thermo-chemical reactions, the Cat-HTR process operates at lower temperatures, using less energy, and retains more carbon in its products, compared to pyrolysis and gasification. This makes the platform well suited to our carbon-constrained world. By comparison, pyrolysis and gasification are uncontrolled reactions, resulting in a significant percentage of carbon from the feedstock ending up as either solid char or gas (CO2). 

The Licella team, based on the NSW Central Coast, have continued to make significant commercial progress.  This year, Arbios Biotech this year formed a global alliance with Shell Catalysts & Technologies, to utilize Shell’s upgrader technology in its Cat-HTR commercial plants and create an end-to-end biorefinery solution. Some of the first biocrude produced from the new Cat-HTR CS-1 facility will be shipped to Shell’s facilities in Amsterdam for upgrading. In addition, Cat-HTR renewable biocrude can be fed into existing refinery infrastructure, a direct substitute for fossil derived equivalents. 

In parallel, Mura Technology are building the first commercial HTL facility for waste plastic, with the Cat-HTR technology at its core, in the UK through subsidiary ReNew ELP. Mura, who have a global strategic alliance with KBR, recently announced an agreement with Mitsubishi Chemicals to build an advanced recycling plant in Japan, with Licella’s Cat-HTR technology at its core. 

The Licella backstory

In April, we reported that materials science company Dow and Mura Technology, a developer and licensee of Licella’s Cat-HTR platform, partnered together to scale up Mura’s new HydroPRS (Hydrothermal Plastic Recycling Solution) process to play pivotal role in Mura’s global rollout of 1 million tons of recycling capacity by 2025. 

In March we reported that Licella joined forces with a group of high-profile companies like Nestlé and LyondellBasell, who have collaborated to produce Australia’s first soft plastic food wrapper made with food-grade recycled content. Second, Licella launched a feasibility study with other key industry stakeholders, including major Australian retailer Coles to determine the technical, economic, and environmental benefits of a local advanced recycling industry and will look at potential sites in Victoria (Australia) for a Cat-HTR plant. 

Last October, we reported that Licella entered into a new joint venture with Canadian Forest Products Ltd, usually known as Canfor — the JV is called Arbios Biotech.

Arbios will be principally focused on the advanced biofuel sector in the short-to-medium term, reflecting its positive environmental footprint as well as the current market stimulus for low-carbon liquid transportation fuels in various parts of North America and Canada. Longer term, Arbios believes its proprietary technology will enable it to expand into other highly attractive opportunities such as the biochemical and biomaterial sectors. One reason? Cat-HTR technology delivers industry-leading greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, with the carbon intensity 80% less than that of conventional crude. 

And in May 2020, we reported that Licella Holdings signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work with Indian based company Unnmukt Urja Private Limited, to explore the opportunity for utilizing Licella’s innovative Cat-HTR (‘Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor’) technology as a more sustainable and higher value solution for rice straw residues in India. 

Visualization of the technology

The Digest’s Multi-Slide Guide to Licella is here.

Reaction from the stakeholders

Licella CEO, Dr Len Humphreys, said that the new CS-1 facility will be capable of producing up to 140 barrels of sustainable oil per day, a direct substitute for fossil crude, from post-consumer biomass and plastics. “We believe that our upgraded Cat-HTR facility is the largest operational plant of its kind in the world today. The commissioning of CS-1 acts as the catalyst to support the growing commercial roll-out of our Cat-HTR technology globally. It is an exciting commercial milestone,” said Dr Humphreys. 

The Bottom Line

The commercial demo, that’s the acid test, that’s the Big Rig. After that, a development story transitions to deployment and, assuming that the commercial demo plays out, deployment and licensing activity should be intense given the popularity of waste feedstocks and lowest-carbon fuels around the world at this time. Timing couldn’t be better.

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