"The value of idea lies in the using of it."
~ Thomas A.Edison
The development of new and improved technology solutions has always been an essential activity at Unitel. Now, more so than ever before, increased interest in alternative energy, green fuels and bio-chemicals, utilization of renewable resources and environmental issues have created an unprecedented demand for innovative and cost-effective answers.
After 3½ decades in the ring, Unitel continues to fight on. Our diversified portfolio of proprietary know-how has been put to good use over the years, and more is yet to come. Each technology program at Unitel is either internally funded by us, or by a partnership that includes Unitel as a stakeholder. Our current agenda, subject to occasional change, includes:
- HarvestGas – oxyblown/pressurized fluidized bed gasifier for making synthesis gas from biomass
- Bio-ammonia – fertilizer from biomass
- Dimethylether (DME) – clean fuel for the 21st century – two options
- Cellulosic bio-alcohols – thermochemical conversion of renewable resources into liquid fuels
- Cornex – help for the struggling dry corn ethanol industry
- Synthesis gas and hydrogen from infrastructure fuels
- Neogen – beneficial harvesting of low grade waste heat
- Catalyst test system (The Octave/CTS) – screening and evaluating catalysts for the future
HarvestGas – oxyblown/pressurized fluidized bed gasifier for making synthesis gas from biomass
The heart of the HarvestGas system involves a pressurized oxygen-blown biomass gasifier designed for operation in an expanding bed mode. This unit converts the biomass into a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and is optimized to minimize the formation of methane. The effluents from the gasifier are fed into an oxygen injected reformer that transforms the tars and volatiles into additional synthesis gas. The "wheel of fortune" (left) illustrates some potential HarvestGas applications.
Patent applied for. Team: Unitel, SynGest, Alion Science and Technology (Alion), Particulate Solid Research Inc. (PSRI).
Bio-ammonia – fertilizer from biomass
HarvestGas will make its debut as part of the SynGest bio-ammonia plant (right) to be built in Menlo, Iowa. The facility will use 150,000 tons per year of locally supplied corn cobs to manufacture 50,000 tons of ammonia annually, enough to fertilize 500,000 acres of nearby Iowa farmland under corn.
The biomass is first converted into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. After the gas stream is cleaned, the carbon monoxide is "shifted" to maximize hydrogen. The hydrogen is purified and catalytically reacted with nitrogen (from air) to make ammonia. The plant includes an air separation system to provide oxygen for the gasifier and reformer, and pure nitrogen for ammonia synthesis.
With its negative carbon footprint, SynGest's Iowa plant will be the first better-than-100% "green" environmental project of its kind in the world.
Patent applied for. Team: Unitel, SynGest, Alion, PSRI, The Weitz Company, Ambitech, Metso Paper USA, Ammonia Casale.
Dimethylether (DME) – clean fuel for the 21st century – two options
DME is an ultra-clean alternative fuel that contains no sulfur or nitrogen. Its physical properties are similar to those of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). It can be used as a LPG substitute or as an additive into the LPG pool. With some countries in Asia and Europe taking the lead, DME is expected to become a very significant fuel for diesel engines over the next two decades.
Option 1: Methanol dehydration
Unitel and its partner have developed a novel process for dehydrating methanol to make DME. Our method is very simple, and capital costs have been greatly reduced, thus allowing a much higher percentage of the spread between methanol and DME prices to be translated into profit.
Technical and team information is confidential.
Option 2: Direct synthesis of DME
A synthesis gas mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide (H2/CO = 1) is “directly” converted into DME. The synthesis gas can be obtained by reforming natural gas or naphtha, or by gasifying coal (black or brown) or biomass.
Current direct DME synthesis methods use make use of either a slurry phase or fixed bed reactor. Unitel’s technology offers a radical departure – a fluidized unit with much higher conversion and selectivity rates. A special catalyst, and a liquid sorbent process for separating the DME from the other products greatly enhance the cost-effectiveness of our strategy.
The first application of Unitel’s one-step DME technology will most likely be implemented in the State of Victoria in Australia (above) using Australian brown coal as feedstock.
Team: Unitel, DMECE Pty. Ltd., HRL Technology Pty. Ltd.
Cellulosic bio-alcohols – thermochemical conversion of renewable resources into liquid fuels
The concept of turning non-food renewable biomass into cellulosic alcohols has captured the imagination of the alternative energy sector. In the United States, the special subsidies and grants being offered to manufacturers of cellulosic fuels are a major driving force.
Starting with biomass, you have two options: 1) the fermentation approach – mechanical treatment of biomass, chemical treatment, enzymatic reactions, fermentation, separation, concentration/purification, or 2) the thermochemical process – convert the biomass into synthesis gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and use “smart” catalyst chemistry to produce and segregate the desired bio-alcohol(s).
At Unitel our focus of interest has to do with the thermochemical conversion of biomass into alcohols (above).
Team: Technical and team information is confidential.
The Cornex technology is jointly owned by Growmark, Inc. (51%) and Unitel (49%).
Process (left) extracts food-grade oil from the corn feedstock and thereby creates a secondary revenue stream. Additional benefits include measurable energy savings for saccharification, distillation, and for drying the distiller’s dried grains and solubles (DDGS). The fermentation time is reduced, thus increasing the throughput. Non-oily DDGS simplifies handling, transportation and long term storage, and is actually preferred for certain animal feed formulations.
Patent applied for. Team: Unitel, Growmark, Inc., Energy & Environmental Research Center, Solutia Inc., Ambitech Engineering Corporation.
Synthesis gas and hydrogen from infrastructure fuels
Auto-thermal systems (HyWay series) to make synthesis gas and hydrogen from natural gas, propane, gasoline, naphtha. Hydrogen production rate: 5-100 normal cubic meters per hour. Delivery pressure: up to 15 barg.
* Auto-thermal reforming – converts fuel, water and O2 into H2, CO2 and CO
* Interchanger – for heat recovery and energy management
* High temperature water gas shift – reduces CO levels by 50-60%
* Medium temperature water gas shift – brings CO levels to below 1%
Team: Unitel, Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, H2fuel, Sud-Chemie.
Neogen – beneficial harvesting of low grade waste heat
A Waste heat recovery process developed in collaboration with NASA's Glenn Research Center. The Neogen design features a turbo generator and a twin-recuperator configuration that is optimized for converting low-level thermal energy (125C-400C) into usable electric power.
Special applications of interest: marine power plants and solar thermal energy storage systems.
Team: Unitel, Alion, NASA