Excess heat squandered in industrial production processes, as well as the carbon dioxide and water vapors emanating from their chimneys, will soon be put to positive use by an Israeli start-up.
Rehovot-based New CO2 Fuels (NCF) plans to use the extreme heat released by factories such as steel, ceramics, glass and gasification plants – where residual heat temperatures rise to 1,450° C – to drive an innovative fuel production process, the company’s CEO, David Banitt, told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week. Through a process of electrolysis, catalyst and membrane laden cells capture the carbon dioxide and water emitted by these factories, generating the highly potent syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and a separate stream of oxygen. While the heat to drive the process was originally came from solar sources – and still does so in the company’s proof of concept laboratory – the scientists devised what they feel would make this configuration a more marketable mechanism.
“What we found out is there’s a lot of heat in the industry not used, and we could use that heat as well to drive our process,” Banitt said. “We are moving more to exploit the high temperature excess from those industries.”
NCF acquired the original technology in 2011 from Yeda, the commercial branch of the Weizmann Institute of Science. The technology was developed by Prof. Jacob Karni’s laboratory in the department of environmental sciences and energy research, where Karni heads the institute’s Energy Center and supervises solar programs. Karni’s research, which was conducted in partnership with Dr. Avner Rothschild from the Technion, received a $200,000 grant from the Silicon Valley-based organization Israel Strategic Alternative Energy Foundation in 2010. Karni serves as a consultant to the company, while NCF continues to fund research conducted at laboratories in the Weizmann Institute that are further developing this technology.
According to Ophir Gore, head of Energy at Israel NewTech, the company is well on its way to accomplishing this goal: “New CO2 Fuels is one of the most interesting Israeli companies active in Israel’s fuel alternatives arena. In the last Cleantech Forum event which took place recently in San Francisco, which we attended with a delegation of 14 Israeli companies, NCF raised a lot of interest on the part of investors.”
NCF’s technical process entails a reactor made up of a number of a single apparatus of cells, each with a membrane sandwiched by two catalyst layers, Banitt explained. The carbon dioxide enters and splits due to the extreme heat, with carbon monoxide exiting through one pipe and oxygen through a second. The same process applies to water, for hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen and carbon monoxide can then come together to form syngas, which in turn can be converted into fuels like methanol or plastics.
“You can look at it as a reverse combustion,” Banitt said.
Although the proof of simulating the process powered by the excess industrial heat has already been accomplished, NCF’s proof of concept laboratory in the Weizmann Solar Tower runs primarily on solar heat, Banitt told the Post, during a tour of the tower laboratory. The solar heat generation occurs on parabolic dishes, which reflect the light captured to a reactor high up in the tower, and thereby allows for extremely high temperature generation.
An advantage to employing industrial heat releases over solar energy is the fact that such heat is released 24 hours a day, while solar energy heat can only be generated between eight and 10 hours daily, Banitt said. In addition, most of the production cost is associated with the capital cost of the plant, he added.
Looking at the steel, glass and ceramics industries, scientists at NCF realized that companies were wasting a lot of money by emitting clean air at 1,450° C. Meanwhile, in order to be able to produce their chimneys out of cheap materials, rather than ceramics capable of withstanding extreme heat, the factories would suck in cold air to cool down the air, according to Banitt.
“We tell them give us this heat and we will produce fuel from it,” he said. “They have heat – they do nothing with it right now.”
Insisting that the process is profitable, Banitt stressed how huge the market is for syngas derivatives such as methanol, olephines, gasoline, diesel, ammonia, urea and many other chemicals. As an example, NCF calculated that by generating methanol from the process, a plant could have an eternal rate of return of 28 percent and a four-year payback on their investment, he said. In addition, the process operates with very high energy efficiency, with an efficiency rate from heat energy to chemical energy in syngas of 40 percent, Banitt added.
“This is the key to being profitable,” he said.
During the conducted test runs, NCF found that out of 15 kilograms of carbon dioxide, the company’s small scale prototype is able to produce 10 kilograms of carbon monoxide, he explained.
In terms of their path toward commercial operation, NCF last week signed a memorandum of understanding with two companies in Europe – the largest steel manufacturer in the world and an engineering and equipment supplier, Banitt told the Post. Together, the team plans to build a demonstration and pilot plant in Belgium, and an official agreement will be solidified within a year, he said. If all goes as planned, the European project will kick off in about 18 months, he added.
In addition to taking part in this understanding, NCF has agreed to collaborate with an international company that focuses on energy intensive equipment, in order to apply for a project grant from the United States Department of Energy. The two firms plan to test their products together, and upon success, integrate the two, Banitt said.
“Now that we are getting more and more reassurance from the market that we are proposing to them has real economic potential, we are more confident that we are doing the right thing,” he added.
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