$2.25 per gallon biohydrocarbon fuels, unsubsidized? Biozin licenses IH2 Technology — heads for commercial-scale in Norway


In Texas, CRI/Criterion Catalyst Company has awarded an FEL-2 license agreement for the IH2 technology which converts biomass to liquid transportation fuels, to Biozin Holding.

The Front End Loading (FEL-2) package will be completed for the core IH2 technology by global engineering and construction specialists KBR.  KBR is CRI’s preferred FEED engineering services provider for commercial scale IH2 facilities.  KBR’s six years of experience with IH2 plant design will help de-risk the commercial scale design.

The Biozin backstory

Now, if you haven’t heard of Biozin, it’s a new joint venture between Norwegian saw mill company Bergene Holm AS and the Swedish oil company Preem AB — aimed at developing commercial scale biofuel production sites in Norway through Biozin Holding AS.

The Preem Backstory

In March we reported that Preem and Vattenfall have concluded an agreement to investigate the potential of using climate-smart hydrogen gas in the large scale production of biofuel for the Swedish market. The raw materials for this process are forestry by-products and hydrogen gas. The aim is to boost Preem’s production of biodiesel and other fossil-free biofuels to 3 million cubic meters annually by 2030. The hydrogen gas will be produced by electrolysis, i.e. by passing an electric current through water to separate the molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases.

Last September we reported that Global Bioenergies, Preem, SEKAB and Sveaskog joined forces to develop a high-performance fuel entirely based on forest resources. Over the coming months, the consortium will study various plant scenarios to profitably convert forestry products and residues into bio-isooctane, a 100-octane rating, high-performance bio-based gasoline derived from bio-isobutene. The value chain will rely on Sveaskog’s forestry activities, Sekab’s CelluAPP biomass to sugar conversion process, Global Bioenergies wood-sugars to Isobutene process and Preem’s gasoline production processes, blending and retailing activities.

The first commercial project

The first commercial production facility is intended to be located adjacent to the Bergene Holm AS saw mill in Åmli in southern Norway.

The client intends to utilize mill residues from Åmli and forestry residues from the region. The product will be refined by one of Preem’s refineries in Sweden.  IH2* hydrocarbons produced from woody biomass meet ASTM specifications for their respective fuels, positioned for the US market as an E10 gasoline fully renewable product, or as a 100% renewable diesel.  Third party testing of the IH2* woody biomass derived neat (R100) kerosene cut, for global jet specifications Jet A-1/JP8, indicates that the material meets these specifications for the properties tested to date.

Ongoing research suggests minor adjustments of the technology will be able to provide drop in hydrocarbon fuels which meet European Standard (specifications for drop in renewable petrol and diesel hydrocarbons from the Biozin intended feed slate.

What is the IH2 technology, anyway?

The IH2 technology is a thermocatalytic conversion route for woody biomass and forest residues feedstock that has been estimated to produce drop-in renewable fuels at around ~$2.25/gallon (in 2014 dollars), based on a 2000 tonne dry feed/day scale on a USGC basis using a stand-alone design basis. The technology was initially developed by the Gas Technology Institute and CRI came in, initially for the catalyst sales opportunity, but expanded its role after digging into the technology.

What does the IH2 technology produce?

Commercial volumes of ASTM-spec renewable gasoline, jet and diesel. In the 2000 ton per day reference example, think something like a 60 million gallon nameplate capacity, based on 90% uptime.

More about the IH2 process

The first is feed conditioning where the raw material is sized (2-4 mm is optimum), mixed and dried.

The first stage reactor is a bubbling fluidized bed but unlike a traditional bubbling fluidized bed boiler, no sand is used. The unit is loaded with the catalyst, which acts as a heat transfer mechanism. Inside the unit, the biomass meets the catalyst in the presence of a low-pressure hydrogen atmosphere. Hydrogen is produced in a hydrogen manufacturing unit.

The reaction takes seconds in the pressurized reactor. By the end of the first stage, the material is in vapor form and the vapor includes hydrocarbon molecules of varying length as well as the water.

The first stage takes out the majority of the oxygen. The second stage takes out the rest as well as undesirable trace elements such as sulfur and nitrogen. A cyclone collects char and ash (about 10-12%), the char having an energy content of 11,000-12,000 BTU/lb.

The process requires a fossil fuel source such as natural gas only at startup. It is used in three places: to heat the first stage reactor; to pre-heat the feed to the second stage reactor and as an initial feed gas in the hydrogen manufacturing unit. The process is self-sufficient and self-sustaining after startup, no longer requiring the need for natural gas addition.

A catalytic thermo-chemical process is used to break the carbon-oxygen bonds and replace them with carbon-hydrogen bonds (and forming water as a result). The process creates heat — so, it can be used to make high pressure steam for a paper machine dryer.

The oxygen from the biomass is removed primarily as water. The water is then used together with light gases produced by the process as the input to create all the hydrogen the system needs together with CO2. The CO2 may be captured to create a product for enhanced oil recovery, food or chemical products.

By the way, CRI reports that “the process equipment is not new or novel nor does it require special materials to construct. It can be refinery or mill integrated although the refinery integration model may have better economics.”

The yields

In 2014, CRI said that “research shows the IH2 process can produce up to 92 gallons of liquid fuel per ton of wood feedstock (on a dry, ash-free basis). This totals 184,000 gal/day.”

However, by late 2014, the company had modified this to a 67-172 gallon range. The gasoline: diesel ratio would be expected to be 70:30. Product oxygen is below detectable limits and the total acid number or TAN is less than 0.03. By contrast, traditional pyrolysis oils have a TAN in excess of 100.

So, think in terms right now of a 28% yield with wood as the feedstock and with the current generation of catalysts. With each new generation, yield is expected to increase. Also, the boiling point curve can be moved, which allows one to shift the ratio of the product one produces, e.g, more gasoline or more diesel.

The cost

NREL determined in 2012 that a 2,000-ton/day wood-based, greenfield plant would have a CAPEX of $232.8 million. The minimum sales price needed to provide overall IRR of 10% on top of 60% financed at 8% was calculated to be $1.76/gal with wood at $71.97 per dry ton. Feedstock accounted for 55% of the operating cost., and these costs exclude subsidies.

If the unit was integrated with an existing refinery and did not need to purchase the hydrogen manufacturing unit, a selling price of $1.49/gal would be needed to achieve 10% IRR. Good news for pulp and paper customers? A pulp and paper company might be able to reduce CAPEX to as low as $112 million, according to CRI.

The numbers that CRI itself has been using since 2014, however, are focused around a $2.25 per gallon manufacturing cost. And more recently, in the SenSel project, “fully profited manufacturing costs of $2.50/gallon” were cited for a 2000 tonne dry feed/day scale on a USGC basis using a full stand-alone design.

How does this differ from other thermocatalytic technologies?

In 2013, Terry Marker, GTI’s principal investigator on IH2 “told ACS, “Our technology is different because we are doing hydropyrolysis at moderate pressures of 350–500 psi under H2 and slightly lower temperature than conventional pyrolysis.”

But that’s not all. In the case of IH2 — compared to, say, Ensyn or KiOR technology, the biomass remains in the reactor for :”several minutes” as opposed to a handful of seconds (or less) in other systems. The combination of those long residence times, the moderate pressures and temperatures and the work of CRI’s magic catalyst — well, everyone says that provides the magic to get the oxygen levels down. And the second-stage reactor hydrogenates the liquids to remove what’s left. Result? A two-reactor system, and hydrocarbons at high yield.

More about the IH2 feedstocks

Wood was the initial choice, because the technology’s original developer GTI knew the material — and because there are abundant supplies at affordable prices. However, the IH2 process has been shown effective at the conversion of a broad range of other biomass types including seaweed, aquatic plants, algae, bagasse, corn stover and even municipal solid waste.

The plant design takes the hot flue gases from the hydrogen manufacturing unit to dry the incoming biomass (assumed to arrive with a 50% moisture content and needing to be dried down to 105), which frees all the heat generated by the process to go back to, for example, a paper machine.

Speaking of hydrogen…one thing about some of those other feedstocks; there might be higher yields there. CRI’s elemental analysis provides a hydrogen to carbon atomic ratio which correlates with both the liquid fuel yield and liquid fuel quality; a higher ratio predicts better yields and fuel properties. For example, the H/C ratio for wood is 1.4. But CRI determined that micro algae check in at 1.7, macro algae at 1.6, lemna at 1.5, corn stover at 1.5 and bagasse at 1.4.

Scale-up to date

Work started in a laboratory-scale unit at GTI. In September 2011, an automated 50-kg feed/day continuous pilot plant output was achieved at GTI, and is being used to confirm earlier yield estimates at smaller scale and confirm catalyst life. The pilot plant has been in continuous operation since March 2012.

Last June, it was revealed that SynSel Energi licensed the technology for a 5 ton/day demonstration plant located in Grenland, Norway is to be completed over a period of several months by Zeton, Inc (Zeton) of Ontario, Canada.  Zeton is the preferred engineering services provider for IH2 facilities at demonstration scale.  The IH2 technology is an efficient conversion route for lignocellulosic biomass.

In November, Shell India Markets said it will proceed with the installation of a 5 tonne/day IH2 technology demonstration plant on the site of SIMPL’s new Technology Centre in Bangalore, India.

In late 2014, CRI revealed that “two commercial-scale licenses have been awarded” but the partners in question have not been identified.

See it Now – the IH2 technology in slides

Affordable, drop-in hydrocarbons from wood: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to CRI/GTI’s IH2 process