Who’s the Mystery Date? Green hydrogen for renewable diesel’s stealthy project

January 15, 2020 |

From Planet Houston we’ve heard that ENGlobal inked a $20 million to supply process modules that will be used to construct a complete hydrogen production facility. The plant will be a major component of an otherwise unidentified renewable diesel facility with an expected maximum production of 10,000 barrels of renewable diesel per day. ENGlobal — one of the Houston megaplex’s perennial engineering firms in the realm of automation — engineering, detailed design, procurement, module fabrication and automation.  

The hydrogen unit design utilizes Haldor Topsoe technology.  This highly efficient synthesis gas process consumes approximately 20% less feed and fuel gas than conventional hydrogen plants, and produces no excess steam, leading to substantially lower operating costs and a far smaller carbon footprint. It will mark the first time this innovative technology will be used in the United States, after more than 40 successful implementations worldwide.  ENGlobal offers a full range of capabilities to engineer, fabricate and automate these plants, with each application realizing significant cost and schedule benefits through the company’s modular execution strategy.”

Haldor Topsoe’s latest foray into renewable diesel and hydroprocessing

Topsoe already offers the HydroFlex process that is in commercial operation at refineries producing renewable diesel from vegetable oils, animal fats, and tall oil. The result is identical to fossil diesel on the molecular level. This means that the renewable diesel produced from the HydroFlex process can be used as a drop-in diesel without modification of standard car engines.

But last month, Haldor had this to say about their latest and greatest technology:

The Bio-crude Production and Upgrading to Renewable Diesel project will investigate innovative approaches to optimize an integrated, advanced biofuels process in order to produce sustainable renewable diesel at an attractive cost.

The chosen process is catalytic biomass pyrolysis integrated with a hydroprocessing unit. This type of process is generally considered an attractive route towards sustainable renewable fuels. It uses cellulosic feedstocks such as woody biomass, energy crops and agricultural and other wastes, making it a next generation technology.

The focus of the project is to:

  1. maximize biocrude (also known as pyrolysis oil) yields in catalytic biomass pyrolysis by optimizing the physical and chemical characteristics of cellulosic biomass feedstock, in a commercially viable manner;
  2. improve efficiency of the upgrading of biocrude to renewable diesel blendstock by splitting the liquid intermediate in fractions that are hydroprocessed individually.

By extraction and distillation, the biocrude is separated into three different streams of similar functionalities; a less polar aromatic fraction (light cycle oil – LCO), a pyrolytic lignin fraction, and a water-soluble fraction. The separation process as well as the proposed upgrading strategy is shown in the figure below.

Who’s the mystery project developer?

No one can say for sure, but we suspect it might be SkyNRG.

In May, we reported that SkyNRG had chosen Haldor Topsoe’s world-leading technology for production of renewable diesel and jet fuel for their planned facility at Delfzijl, the Netherlands. SAF will be supplied directly to aircraft at the nearby airport. As a strategic partner, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has committed to buy 75,000 tons of SAF per year for a ten-year period. SkyNRG’s planned refinery is the first in world to be entirely dedicated to producing renewable jet fuel and the first in Europe to produce certified SAF. It is the first of a series of planned SkyNRG refineries placed centrally at aviation hubs all over the world in order to provide SAF locally via direct supply lines.

But then again, it could be the less-far-along but US-based Steamboat Fuels, whose website reveals:

Utilizing Haldor Topsoe’s proven HydroFlex technology, Steamboat Fuels is constructing its first of several planned Renewable Fuel Facilities within Texas. Each facility, or “train”, will have the capacity to produce 6,500 BPD of Renewable Fuels, including Renewable Diesel, Renewable Naphtha and Renewable LPG. Our annual renewable fuel production will equate to approximately 100 million gallons/year for each Renewable Diesel Facility.

Steamboat is a bit of a different animal when it comes to business models — it’s a tolling operation. As the company explains:

We take the Client’s feedstock and process it into three products: Renewable Diesel, Renewable Naphtha and Mixed LPG. Renewable Diesel comprises approximately 90% of the refined product mix, with the remainder equally divided between Renewable Naphtha and Mixed LPG.

The Client is charged a fixed fee per gallon produced. The toll is the same amount for each type of renewable fuel produced.

The Client then takes all refined product for their own account. Since the Client retains title to the feedstock throughout the tolling process, all environmental attributes (RINs, LCFS credits, etc.) are retained by the Client.

As a tolling facility, Steamboat Fuels has, in effect, “contracted cash flows” via minimum contracted feedstock volume commitments from each Client. This in turn, enables us to generate steady predictable cash flows and a profitable return on invested capital.The tolling arrangement is very beneficial to the Client. It provides cost certainty with respect to refining costs and eliminates capital outlays that would otherwise be incurred. Further, our facility is designed to run virtually all types of animal fats and vegetable oils, either separately or mixed.

Stakeholder reaction

“This agreement is a significant event in the history of ENGlobal,” said Chairman and CEO William A. Coskey, P.E. “Not only does it introduce to the U.S. market an efficient and environmentally-friendly syngas process, it also validates our strategic shift toward providing higher-revenue modular process systems that utilize differentiated technology. We fully expect this win to greatly enhance our ability to secure additional modular systems business using this and other related technologies.”

Mr. Bruce Williams, Senior Vice President of ENGlobal stated, “I am proud to be part of the excellent and mutually beneficial working relationship we have in place with Haldor Topsoe.  The jobs we are currently proposing range from $25M to $125M and typically involve renewable fuels, refining, chemicals and fuel cell applications. 

Mr. Coskey said he expected to announce details on future contract opportunities “in the near future.”

The Bottom Line

Yep, more renewable diesel means more hydrogen, and we need green hydrogen. So, not everything in this space — not by a long shot, goes towards fuel cells for transportation or stationery power. There’s the hydrotreating industry — a world of opportunity for those wishing to decarbonize and for those wishing to help in that effort. And, not to mention all the opportunities in packaging and green chemistry where hydrocarbons are of enormous utility and biobased feedstocks generally come up short in the hydrogen department.

Category: Top Story

About the Author ()

Thank you for visting the Digest.