Enerkem to Make Methanol Through Gasification in Netherlands PDF Print E-mail

The company will divert what would have headed elsewhere for incineration, while creating an alternative to fossil fuel, mainly for manufacturing and transportation fuel blends.


Now that Enerkem’s Edmonton, Alberta, waste-to-cellulosic ethanol plant is running at full scale, the company has turned to the Netherlands for a larger conversion project. It plans to tap into some of the 2 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) shipped to Port Rotterdam yearly to produce methanol through gasification—diverting what would have headed elsewhere for incineration, while creating an alternative to fossil fuel, mainly for manufacturing and transportation fuel blends.

Two companies join the Enerkem-Port Rotterdam partnership: Amsterdam-based chemical company AkzoNobel, which wants to shift from fossil fuel to other raw materials to make its products, and Air Liquide, an industrial gas company headquartered in Paris that will supply gases to the plant for its waste-to-methanol production process.

“All four partners have complementary strategies, with the main one being to work on shifting from fossil fuels to alternative fuels,” says Anton de Vries, an Enerkem director who leads the project.

The port not only is rich in feedstock and potential end users but is uniquely positioned to support infrastructure. It has existing resources to ship methanol via truck or boat as well as to move trash from the U.K. and Northern Europe, which de Vries says has made it fairly easy to capture materials through agreements with waste management suppliers.

Air Liquide’s interest and involvement will likely eventually expand beyond Rotterdam, de Vries projects. “We plan to one day sell our plants all over the world so they could follow us to other locations,” he explains.

AkzoNobel has its own vision. 

“The production and use of methanol fits into the sustainability strategy of AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals. It will enable us to provide products to our customers with the best environmental profile in the market,” says Marco Waas, director of research, development and innovation and technology with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals.

“We expect that the Enerkem technology can in the future be used to produce other key chemical building blocks like acetic acid and various components that can be used as fuel and resins,” adds Waas.

Waas says he sees the project as an important step toward increasing the sustainability of its industry cluster in Rotterdam. But the company’s aim beyond, he points out, “Would be to ensure further implementation of the Enerkem technology in our other industry clusters in Europe as a key element of our sustainability strategy.”

The Rotterdam plant, costing nearly $232,235,000, will gasify 300,000 tons of waste a year, producing more than 200,000 tons of methanol. The gasification process will avoid about 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions that would have been generated through incineration, according to de Vries.

The patented technology can break down chemically and structurally dissimilar waste, including plastic materials, into a pure syngas. The syngas can then be converted into commercial-grade methanol.

This project helps the Port of Rotterdam support the government in working toward greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030 and 2050: 49 percent and 95 percent, respectively (from 1990 emissions).

“There is a large industry sector (electricity production, chemicals, refineries) in the port area in Rotterdam that is dependent on fossil fuel,” says Bert Regeer, spokesperson of the Port of Rotterdam Authority. “There is a huge challenge to be successful in the energy transition and at the same time maintain a vital port of world class in the future.”

“Against this background, the Port of Rotterdam Authority installed a dedicated team that is building coalitions for energy transition projects that help the port to become carbon neutral on the road toward 2050,” he adds. “This is an important project to make tangible progress on the short term with the energy transition.”

The Rotterdam plant is in the design phase, with construction slated to begin sometime in 2019 and launch planned for 2020.

Construction is expected to create about 600 to 700 direct and indirect jobs. Once in operation, the plant will create about 150 to 200 direct and indirect jobs, says de Vries, who reports Enerkem is now contracting with waste suppliers and negotiating contracts with methanol buyers. 

The company’s eventual plans are to build out, having modules constructed in different parts of the world to be assembled in Rotterdam and shipped out. The demand is there, de Vries notes.

“[Using methanol as a building block] becomes a marketing tool, and we see it having a lot of pull. Manufacturers are asking for products that will use a methanol biobase,” he says. “We anticipate this plant, which is the first of its kind in Europe, opening the door for similar future facilities in other parts of Europe.”

Microsoft and Toyota are revving up interest in hydrogen fuel-cell energy tech PDF Print E-mail
Toyota MiraiToyota’s Mirai fuel-cell sedan runs on hydrogen. (Toyota Photo)

Grid battery storage projects like Tesla’s 100-megawatt installation in Australia may be getting lots of press, but behind the scenes, hydrogen fuel-cell systems are carving out a niche in applications ranging from non-polluting motor vehicles to power-gobbling data centers.

“It’s not either-or,” said Sunita Satyapal, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technology Office. “We definitely need battery electric vehicles, we need advanced combustion, biofuels — really, all of the above. But what’s unique about hydrogen is its versatility.”

Satyapal and some prominent users of fuel-cell systems, including executives from Microsoft and Toyota, discussed the state of the art in Seattle today during the CleanTech Innovation Showcase, presented by CleanTech Alliance.

Fuel cells generate energy through a straightforward chemical reaction: Stored hydrogen is combined with oxygen from the air with the aid of a catalyst, producing electricity. The devices are about twice as efficient as internal combustion engines when it comes to converting chemical energy into power, and the only emissions they produce are air and water vapor.

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“For us, it’s all about the emissions,” said Ron Kent, advanced technologies manager for the Southern California Gas Company.

Today, most hydrogen fuel is produced from natural gas, but energy companies are also fine-tuning  techniques that use electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. The hydrogen provides a portable way to store the energy for later use.

Kent’s company is partnering with the University of California at Irvine and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory on demonstration projects that combine hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce methane fuel.

“It allows use to grab CO2 and do something with it,” Kent said. “We’re using microbes to do it.”

Microsoft aims to use fuel cells, as well as grid batteries, to make sure its data centers can cope with spikes in power usage when the internet glows hot.

“Our vision is that fuel cells are primary power, not backup,” Sean James, director of energy research at Microsoft, told GeekWire. Microsoft has been experimenting with fuel-cell-powered data centers that run on biogas or natural gas, with the eventual aim of using hydrogen made with solar or wind power.

One big drawback is the capital cost. “Fuel cells are already pretty efficient, but they’re also pretty expensive,” James said. He advised energy researchers to focus on making the devices cheaper rather than increasing their efficiency.

Sunita Satyapal, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technology Office, moderates a panel at the CleanTech Innovation Showcase in Seattle. To the left are Ron Kent of the Southern California Gas Company and Sean James of Microsoft. To the right are Total Transportation Services’ Victor La Rosa and Toyota’s Dave Bora. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Fuel cells are slowly gaining ground in the automotive sector as well. For several years, California-based Total Transportation Services has been running a fleet of freight trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells, alongside trucks powered by batteries and natural gas.

Setting up mobile hydrogen fuelers is one of the keys to success, said Victor La Rosa, the company’s CEO.

“It gives us a lot of versatility, and the ability to open up using hydrogen anywhere,” he said. “But more than anything, it increases our range. That’s really the most significant thing, especially over the battery technology.”

Total Transportation’s hydrogen-powered trucks have a range of about 250 miles, compared with 100 miles on average for battery-driven trucks, La Rosa said. Moreover, hydrogen refueling goes much faster than battery recharging, he said.

The availability of hydrogen refueling stations, or lack thereof, is a limiting factor. Right now, California and Hawaii are the only states that have them. But Dave Bora, senior manager for advanced technologies research at Toyota Motors North America, is hoping that’ll change sooner rather than later.

Toyota already makes a hydrogen-powered passenger sedan known as the Mirai (which is the Japanese word for “the future”). Toyota says the car will become available this year in Canada, starting with Quebec.

Just this month, a hydrogen fueling station opened in Vancouver, B.C. — the first of what’s expected to be eight such stations to make their debut in British Columbia over the next two years. The stations are meant to service Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered Tucson model as well as the Mirai and the Honda Clarity.

“Now we have California and Canada, and we’re starting to look at Oregon and Washington, in between … to kinda get the West Coast going,” Bora said.

Scientists calculate impact of China's ban on plastic waste imports PDF Print E-mail
June 20, 2018
University of Georgia


Credit: CC0 Public Domain


While recycling is often touted as the solution to the large-scale production of plastic waste, upwards of half of the plastic waste intended for recycling is exported from higher income countries to other nations, with China historically taking the largest share.

But in 2017, China passed the "National Sword" policy, which permanently bans the import of non-industrial plastic waste as of January 2018. Now, scientists from the University of Georgia have calculated the potential global impact of this legislation and how it might affect efforts to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the world's landfills and natural environment.

They published their findings today in the journal Science Advances.

"We know from our previous studies that only 9 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, and the majority of it ends up in landfills or the natural environment," said Jenna Jambeck, associate professor in UGA's College of engineering and co-author of the study. "About 111 million metric tons of plastic waste is going to be displaced because of the import ban through 2030, so we're going to have to develop more robust recycling programs domestically and rethink the use and design of plastic products if we want to deal with this waste responsibly."

Global annual imports and exports of plastic waste skyrocketed in 1993, growing by about 800 percent through 2016.

Since reporting began in 1992, China has accepted about 106 million metric tons of plastic waste, which accounts for nearly half of the world's plastic waste imports. China and Hong Kong have imported more than 72 percent of all plastic waste, but most of the waste that enters Hong Kong—about 63 percent—is exported to China.

This animated graphic shows how many metric tons of plastic waste were imported or exported by select countries from 1996 to 2016. It also includes an estimation of how much plastic waste will be displaced should current trends continue to 2030. Credit: Lindsay Robinson

High income countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas account for more than 85 percent of all global plastic waste exports. Taken collectively, the European Union is the top exporter.

"Plastic waste was once a fairly profitable business for China, because they could use or resell the recycled plastic waste," said Amy Brooks, a doctoral student in UGA's College of Engineering and lead author of the paper. "But a lot of the plastic China received in recent years was poor quality, and it became difficult to turn a profit. China is also producing more plastic waste domestically, so it doesn't have to rely on other nations for waste."

For exporters, cheap processing fees in China meant that shipping waste overseas was less expensive than transporting the materials domestically via truck or rail, said Brooks.

"It's hard to predict what will happen to the plastic waste that was once destined for Chinese processing facilities," said Jambeck. "Some of it could be diverted to other countries, but most of them lack the infrastructure to manage their own waste let alone the waste produced by the rest of the world."

The import of plastic waste to China contributed an additional 10 to 13 percent of plastic waste on top of what they were already having a difficult time managing because of rapid economic growth before the import ban took effect, Jambeck said.

"Without bold new ideas and system-wide changes, even the relatively low current recycling rates will no longer be met, and our previously recycled materials could now end up in landfills," Jambeck said.

'The fastest way to a zero-emission world' Hyundai and Audi form hydrogen fuel cell partnership PDF Print E-mail

Hyundai and Audi have announced a hydrogen partnership that will see both brands cooperating in the development of automotive fuel cell technology.

The multi-year patent cross-licensing agreement includes "a broad range" of components for fuel cell cars (a type of zero-emission vehicle that runs on hydrogen) and will "leverage collective research and development capabilities" in hydrogen propulsion. This announcement comes after Audi renewed its partnership with long-standing fuel cell supplier Ballard Power Systems earlier in June. 

“The fuel cell is the most systematic form of electric driving and thus a potent asset in our technology portfolio for the emission-free premium mobility of the future,” said Peter Mertens, Board Member for Technical Development at AUDI AG.

“On our FCEV roadmap, we are joining forces with strong partners such as Hyundai. For the breakthrough of this sustainable technology, cooperation is the smart way to leading innovations with attractive cost structures.” 

Audi is the hydrogen fuel cell lead within the Volkswagen Group and is understood to be developing FCEV road cars for introduction in 2020. Hyundai is a leader in fuel cell cars, having produced both the ix35 SUV and the upcoming Nexo, due to launch in the UK early next year.

“This agreement is another example of Hyundai’s strong commitment to creating a more sustainable future whilst enhancing consumers’ lives with hydrogen-powered vehicles, the fastest way to a truly zero-emission world,” said Euisun Chung, Vice Chairman at Hyundai Motor Company.

“We are confident that the Hyundai Motor Group-Audi partnership will successfully demonstrate the vision and benefits of FCEVs to the global society.” 

Hyundai Mobis, the group's main hydrogen component manufacturer, can expand complete fuel cell powertrain production to "tens of thousands" of units per year at its Chungju facility, though at the moment capacity is just 3,000 annually. We estimate there to be around 100 fuel cell cars in the UK.

Read: Hyundai Nexo first UK drive

In addition to sharing components, Hyundai and Audi have expressed an intention to "spur innovation" in H2 tech, providing "more advanced mobility options" to customers.

A hydrogen fuel cell uses an electrochemical reaction to turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water. In the context of vehicle propulsion, this enables zero-emission mobility with long range and relatively fast refuelling times – a Hyundai Nexo can be fully 'recharged' from empty in under five minutes, with a range of around 500 miles per refill.

Challenges include the creation and distribution of hydrogen which, despite being the most abundant atom in the universe, can be expensive to obtain. Only a small number of hydrogen filling stations exist in the UK and, while the number is growing across Europe, the network is not yet comprehensive enough for widespread FCEV uptake.

Hydrogen can be produced in several different ways, including using algae, fermentation or 'gasification' from fossil fuels. The most practical method currently used in transport is electrolysis, a process by which renewable electricity is used to 'split' water into hydrogen and oxygen, normally on the same site as the fuel pump. 

Hyundai has identified regenerative hydrogen production and the establishment of hydrogen infrastructure as being key factors in the fuel's future market success.

The French Want World Supremacy in Hydrogen Energy PDF Print E-mail

In January , a French startup announced it would become the country's first company to start production of bicycles that run on hydrogen for use in corporate or municipal fleets. This came after the European country's government announced last summer its plans to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040, and become carbon neutral a decade later in an effort to follow the Paris climate agreement.

Last week, France took another step toward its green goal and announced it wants to become the world leader in hydrogen energy production to support its green plans for transportation. The minister of the environment Nicolas Hulot said the government will invest more than $100 million in the sector by 2019 as part its plans to develop hydrogen energy.

"Hydrogen can play an extremely important role in the power transition," Hulot said at a news conference at the launch of the plan.

According to the plan, the commercial possibilities for hydrogen are underutilized, in spite of the chemical element's potential to generate power in the 21st century. Yet hydrogen still poses scientific challenges, and the process of obtaining it is still expensive.

Hulot said his country is not afraid to dream big to develop environmentally friendly industries, and strives to have 5,200 hydrogen-powered commercial and heavy-goods vehicles – such as buses, trucks, etc. – on the road by 2023, as well as 100 service stations for the vehicles.

"Thanks to the progress of electrolysis technology, (hydrogen) can be produced in a carbon-free, cost-efficient way and contribute to the goals that France set for itself in terms of development of renewable energies, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, and reduction of fossil energy consumption," the plan reads.

Unlike with batteries, hydrogen power can be stored long-term and together with solar and wind power, this molecule will have an important part to play in countries keeping their green promises, said Philippe Boucly, president of the French association for hydrogen and fuel cells, during the conference.

France is only one of the several European countries that take the green challenge seriously. Other states on the continent have announced that they intend to reduce fossil fuel usage and look toward environmental friendly options. In Norway, for example, electric and hybrid car sales accounted for more than half of all new vehicle registrations in 2017.

Last year, the German automotive industry organization announced it wants to reduce the nitrogen oxide output by up to 30 percent, while mayors of Madrid, Oslo and Athens have said they will ban diesel vehicles from their city centers by 2025. According to a recent report on global hydrogen demand, the United States is expected to remain the world’s largest hydrogen market by volume, but China could grow the most throughout the year thanks to its commitment toward more firm clean fuel regulations.

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