Outline for Europeís first waste to methanol plant PDF Print E-mail


 Enerkem teams up with AkzoNobel and Air Liquide to turn rubbish into raw materials

A facility to convert non-recyclable waste into valuable raw materials is being planned at the port of Rotterdam. Canadian company Enerkem, is working with AkzoNobel Speciality Chemicals, and industrial gases group Air Liquide to develop a plant that will convert 350,000 tonnes of waste, including plastics, into 270 million litres of ‘green’ methanol, each year.

Enerkem’s full-scale waste-to-biofuels facility in Edmonton, Alberta

Source: © Curtis Trent

Enerkem’s full-scale waste-to-biofuels facility in Edmonton, Alberta

The consortium says this represents the annual waste of more than 700,000 households and will avoid some 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. 

The methanol will be used as a biofuel, and by AkzoNobel to produce dimethyl ether, chloromethane and other chemical intermediaries currently produced from fossil fuel sources. Air Liquide will provide the oxygen, and together with AkzoNobel, the hydrogen required for the reactions. 

Marco Waas, director of research, development and innovation at AkzoNobel’s industrial chemicals business, described the project as ‘a significant step toward implementing a sustainable and circular chemical industry’. He added that the agreement came at ‘a very appropriate time given the current challenges in plastics recycling in Europe.’ Recycling plants are struggling to cope since China banned imports of plastic waste, from January this year. 

The firms will make a final decision on the $200m investment later this year, once permitting and detailed engineering planning are complete. However, Enerkem says there are currently limited support mechanisms to incentivise such sustainable chemistry initiatives: the Dutch government has undertaken to bring forward new policy measures to support the project.

 The plant will be twice the size of Enerkem’s waste to ethanol plant in Edmonton – expected to be at full production later this year. That facility initially produced only methanol to obtain sustainability certification, and to demonstrate purity and process viability to potential European partners. 

Enerkem’s four-step process begins with gasification of the waste. The gasifier contains hot sand at 700°C, steam and very little oxygen, so when it’s added, the waste is converted to carbon monoxide and hydrogen rather than being burnt. The synthetic gas is cooled and ‘scrubbed’ to remove impurities and contaminants. Edmonton’s facility doesn’t use renewable energy, but the heat is recovered and re-used in the gasifier to maintain the fluidity of the hot sand. 

 Enerkem scheme

The syngas is heated again and the carbon monoxide and hydrogen combine at a specified temperature and pressure, in the presence of a copper catalyst. Lastly, the methanol is distilled from the gas.An Enerkem spokesman said the Rotterdam facility would benefit from ‘many small, but important’ process improvements that have been made since the Edmonton plant opened.


Research into the use of methanol as a ship’s fuel is already underway and more initiatives are needed, says the country’s Minister of Shipping and Waterways.

According to The Hindu, Nitin Gadkari made the comments during a ceremony at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras (IIT-M) to mark the laying of a foundation stone for a national technology centre which will focus on the modernisation of India’s ports and inland waterways.

The Minister noted that the National Institution for Transforming India (Niti Aayog), a government policy think-tank established by the Narendra Modi administration, has already undertaken research into methanol, and he suggested that other institutions, such as IIT-M, could further this work and also look how India could manufacture its own methanol for industrial use.

Looking at the developing role of ports in India, Gadkari noted that the shipping industry had registered increasing profits since the BJP government came to power in 2014 and, he said: ‘This year, we are expecting profits up to ₹7000 crore.’



 09 Feb 2018

Lower investment and space requirements than LNG make methanol attractive, but the cost of bio-methanol is a barrier, according to a new Dutch study into the environmentally friendly fuel.

Over the past year the Maritime Knowledge Center, TNO and TU Delft (with support from the Dutch ministry of economic affairs), have investigated the possibilities of using methanol to cut emissions in shipping. Methanol has comparable environmental performance to LNG, but requires less space and up-front investment.

“It is a clean fossil fuel that is also available worldwide in large quantities,” said project leader Project leader Pieter 't Hart of maritime consultancy Koers & Vaart. "Moreover, the transition from grey to green (renewable) methanol is relatively simple and requires hardly any additional investment for ship owners. However, the cost price of green methanol is still too high.”

Green methanol is also subject to a subsidy system described as ‘vulnerable’ by the report. These subsides mean that green methanol is currently cheaper than marine gas oil, but they are not secure in the long term and offer little security for ship owners.

“If that financial bump can be taken, we’ll make a big leap forward towards zero-emission ships,” said Hart.

The report – which looks at methanol as marine fuel experiences to date – include Waterfront Shipping’s methanol carriers and the ro-pax Stena Germanica - can be downloaded here.

Army exploring uses for fuel cell technology beyond vehicles PDF Print E-mail
February 07, 2018 |
Ashley Tressel

A program using hydrogen fuel cells to reduce a vehicle's detectability has revealed other potential uses for the technology, which the service is exploring. Powering an assault vehicle or a command post are among the possibilities, the project lead with the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center told Inside the Army.

A demonstration last month in Hawaii proved the system's stealth in a simulated reconnaissance mission pitting the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, in humvees against the "enemy" in the General Motors ZH2, a modified Chevrolet Colorado fitted with a fuel cell and electric drive. Lying in wait in the ZH2 was project lead Brian Butrico, who was surprised at how close the cavalry came before they noticed his vehicle hiding in the jungle.

"They had no idea until they literally drove right past us," Butrico said of one drill. "Had we been a real enemy opposition force and had a weapons system, we would have been able to destroy the entire column of humvees very easily before they even saw us."

The ZH2 does not produce any smoke, noise, odor or thermal signature, allowing its occupants to mask their presence in the field.

"Instead of [the enemy] being able to hear us from a kilometer away, they can now only hear us from 50 or 100 meters away, so that allows us a lot of flexibility in where we set up command posts, or also freedom of movement, and allows us greater mobility and areas of approach -- more areas we can operate in without being detected," he said.

Butrico said the Army is "just scratching the surface" of possibilities with this technology and officials are excited by future applications. Kari Drotleff, who is replacing Butrico as project lead, said the service aims to determine the best possible use of the technology.

"We can put this into anything, but is it the right application?" she said.

The 25th ID used the fuel cell to quietly power its tactical operation center, eliminating noisy generators. An extensive modeling simulation by the Army will see how this could work in a larger theater, said Butrico. The service is also toying with the idea of using the technology as an auxiliary power unit on a major combat platform or even equipping soldiers with it as a wearable system to lighten their load.

The Army has already begun work to determine how to produce, store and distribute hydrogen in the field. 

Ballard Announces New Improvements in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology for Drones PDF Print E-mail

On December 22nd Ballard Power Systems (NASDAQ: BLDP; TSX: BLDP) announced that the company has developed a next generation high performance fuel cell propulsion system to power unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

We’ve been particularly interested in any new developments in hydrogen fuel cell technology given the potential for higher flying time as an alternative to the restrictive current flying time of 25 minutes or less found on most commercially available multi-copters. This next generation fuel cell propulsion system is set to deliver a number of important advances, namely, increased power density, resulting from a new membrane electrode assembly (MEA) design. Additionally, reduced costs that result from a combination of new MEA and one-step fuel cell stack sealing process will also provide major benefits, along with an extended lifetime. The increase in rated power, without any appreciable increase in size or weight, is a particularly significant development for UAV applications.

Given the perceived improvements over the technology we first reported back in June 2017, we reached out to Phil Robinson Vice President of Unmanned Systems at Protonex, a Ballard subsidiary, to hear from him directly on the details and potential impact of this announcement.


Juan: Do you consider the new technology a breakthrough?

Phil: While the technology described in our announcement is important, I’m not sure it qualifies as a “breakthrough”, but is rather part of our continuous improvement. The MEA is where the “magic” happens in a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell. At Protonex we have traditionally used MEAs from the automotive fuel cell industry, given their very high reliability and good performance. By substituting a Ballard MEA, we were able to increase performance while maintaining reliability and enhancing “operating range”.


Juan: Operating range seems to be the challenge for fuel cells, correct?

Phil: “Operating Range” is very important for fuel cell power systems, and it is often overlooked. For a fuel cell to operate well, the membrane needs to remain moist (but not too wet) and warm (but not too hot). Different fuel cell design approaches result in vastly different operating environment ranges – air cooled stacks like those offered by others in this space are a little like cold-blooded animals: as long as the environment is warm and moist, they do very well. When it gets hot outside, or cold, or dry, they don’t fare so well.


Juan: Does this new technology offer an advantage over the air-cooled systems offered by Intelligent Energy and MMC?

Phil: For some applications, yes. Protonex legacy was mainly with the defense world, and the systems were used in hot dry deserts as well as frigid high-altitude locations. Our systems use a liquid cooling system with circulating coolant and a “heat exchanger” (more commonly known as a radiator). This adds some weight and cost to the system, but gives it a much wider “operating range” than most air-cooled systems.


Juan: Can you be more specific regarding gains in power output and operating range?

Phil: While we already had the widest operating range in the UAV fuel cell industry, the Ballard MEA has widened it even more: it allow us to operate in dryer conditions, and hotter conditions, while generating about 10% more power, so our 600 watt fuel cell system now outputs about 660 watts average.


Juan: Does liquid cooling result in an increase in weight?

Phil: Of course, everyone would want this wider operating range if it were free – but it has a slight weight cost. That liquid cooling system increases the weight enough that, while our systems are a no-brainer for fixed-wing applications, for multi-rotor copters you need a pretty big platform (typically 6-8 rotors with pretty large props) before a liquid cooled system makes sense.


Juan: In the world of commercial applications, more time in the air and longer flights are not really a must-have unless the FAA allows and regulates flights beyond visual line of sight. Do you agree?

Phil: Absolutely. Commercial operators today are restricted not by technology but by the regulations that prevent longer flights and BVLOS. The demand for power technologies that would allow longer flights and faster return on investment on aerial platforms will grow dramatically over the next few years as BVLOS missions become commonplace and Ballard is positioning itself to be a leader in the space.

As with most issues related to the advancement of Unmanned Aerial Systems, BVLOS keeps popping up as a main obstacle to the deployment of better applications. It is an issue that has captured the FAA’s attention at the highest levels and that the UAS Integration Pilot Program announced by the federal government last month specifically addresses.

At the same time that we understand the urge of the industry for flights BVLOS, the safe integration of manned and unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace must also be a priority of every stakeholder. Protonex and the other manufacturers agree with the “Safety-First” approach and support the FAA’s efforts to drive forward quickly yet prudently.

Power technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells are contributing to keep our unmanned aircraft longer in the air but ultimately it would be technologies such as detect-and-avoid, proximity sensors and many others that would allow the FAA to open the flood gates of unrestricted UAV operations in controlled airspace.

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