A new tool installed at a research institution in Texas will help biodiesel producers and refiners of other fuels evaluate better the catalysts they use. This news release from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) says the custom-designed circulating fluidized bed (CFB) helps turn biological feedstocks and heavy crude oils into refined fuel samples that clients can assess for quality and profitability, more quickly than previously used systems, cranking out samples of about a half liter per hour.
The 15 foot tall, 150 square foot CFB is in operation and available to respond to the current push for biofuels, which require catalyst-aided processing of raw materials, or feedstock, derived from biological materials such as algae, corn or wood, or from refinery products such as heavy crude oil. Clients can use a CFB to evaluate new catalysts and determine how plant-derived, bio feedstocks and bio oils can be efficiently integrated into refineries.
The CFB system converts biomass, material derived from plants or wood, to organic liquids using fast pyrolysis, a thermal conversion of organic material in the absence of oxygen. It also can emulate a fluidized catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, a refinery process to convert complex hydrogen molecules to simpler molecules, to convert lower-valued feedstock to higher-value products such as gasoline or diesel. For example, fluidized cataltyic cracking is commonly used in producing gasoline from crude oil.
SwRI’s new circulating fluidized bed is flexible in operation to test both fast pyrolysis processes for biomass-to-biofuels conversion technologies and FCC refinery unit operations.
“In the U.S., a pilot-sized CFB such as ours is unique since conventional FCC testing equipment is smaller and produces very small quantities of material for testing,” said Eloy Flores, an assistant manager in the Fuels and Energy Development Section in SwRI’s Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. “We can produce enough material for fuel specification or standardized testing. In addition, we are capable of high riser velocities associated with biomass fast pyrolysis.”
Part of what SwRI does is certify biofuels for on-road use through emissions testing.