Low severity Fischer-Tropsch synthesis for the production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels

  • Tamer Doss

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Currently, the main source for the production of liquid transportation fuels is petroleum, the continued use of which faces many challenges including depleting oil reserves, significant oil price rises, and environmental concerns over global warming which is widely believed to be due to fossil fuel derived CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases. In this respect, lignocellulosic or plant biomass is a particularly interesting resource as it is the only renewable source of organic carbon that can be converted into liquid transportation fuels. The gasification of biomass produces syngas which can then be converted into synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuels by means of the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis. This process has been widely considered as an attractive option for producing clean liquid hydrocarbon fuels from biomass that have been identified as promising alternatives to conventional fossil fuels like diesel and kerosene. The resulting product composition in FT synthesis is influenced by the type of catalyst and the reaction conditions that are used in the process. One of the issues facing this conversion process is the development of a technology that can be scaled down to match the scattered nature of biomass resources, including lower operating pressures, without compromising liquid composition.
The primary aims of this work were to experimentally explore FT synthesis at low pressures for the purpose of process down-scaling and cost reduction, and to investigate the potential for obtaining an intermediate FT synthetic crude liquid product that can be integrated into existing refineries under the range of process conditions employed. Two different fixed-bed micro-reactors were used for FT synthesis; a 2cm3 reactor at the University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and a 20cm3 reactor at Aston University. The experimental work firstly involved the selection of a suitable catalyst from three that were available. Secondly, a parameter study was carried out on the 20cm3 reactor using the selected catalyst to investigate the influence of reactor temperature, reactor pressure, space velocity, the H2/CO molar ratio in the feed syngas and catalyst loading on the reaction performance measured as CO conversion, catalyst stability, product distribution, product yields and liquid hydrocarbon product composition. From this parameter study a set of preferred operating conditions was identified for low pressure FT synthesis.
The three catalysts were characterized using BET, XRD, TPR and SEM. The catalyst selected was an unpromoted Co/Al2O3 catalyst. FT synthesis runs on the 20cm3 reactor at Aston were conducted for 48 hours. Permanent gases and light hydrocarbons (C1-C5) were analysed in an online GC-TCD/FID at hourly intervals. The liquid hydrocarbons collected were analyzed offline using GC-MS for determination of fuel composition.
The parameter study showed that CO conversion and liquid hydrocarbon yields increase with increasing reactor pressure up to around 8 bar, above which the effect of pressure is small. The parameters that had the most significant influence on CO conversion, product selectivity and liquid hydrocarbon yields were reactor temperature and catalyst loading. The preferred reaction conditions identified for this research were: T = 230ºC, P = 10 bar, H2/CO = 2.0, WHSV = 2.2 h-1, and catalyst loading = 2.0g. Operation in the low range of pressures studied resulted in low CO conversions and liquid hydrocarbon yields, indicating that low pressure BTL-FT operation may not be industrially viable as the trade off in lower CO conversions and once-through liquid hydrocarbon product yields has to be carefully weighed against the potential cost savings resulting from process operation at lower pressures.
Date of Award4 Apr 2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTony Bridgwater (Supervisor)


  • biomass-to-liquid
  • influence of pressure
  • FT diesel

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