Rentech Announces BTL Plant

Still on vacation, but an interesting announcement yesterday by Rentech:

Rialto Project

Our proposed Rialto Renewable Energy Center (Rialto Project) will be located in Rialto, California. The facility is designed to produce approximately 600 barrels per day of pure renewable synthetic fuels and export approximately 35 megawatts of renewable electric power. The renewable power is expected to qualify under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program, which requires utilities to increase the amount of electric power they sell from qualified renewable-energy resources. The plant will be capable of providing enough electricity for approximately 30,000 homes.

Rentech has entered into a licensing agreement with SilvaGas Corporation for the biomass gasification technology for the Rialto facility. Rentech’s proprietary technology for the conditioning and clean-up of syngas will provide the next critical link in the technology chain after gasification. The conditioned syngas will be converted by the Rentech Process in a commercial scale reactor to finished, ultra-clean products such as synthetic diesel and naphtha using upgrading technologies under an alliance between Rentech and UOP, a Honeywell Company. Renewable electric power will be produced at the facility by using conventional high-efficiency gas turbine technology. The power is anticipated to be sold to local utilities under the California RPS program.

The primary feedstock for the Rialto Project will be urban woody green waste such as yard clippings, for which Rentech is currently negotiating supply agreements. The location of the project will provide local green waste haulers with a cost-effective alternative to increasingly scarce landfills for the disposal of woody green waste. The plant is designed to also use biosolids for a portion of the feedstock which is expected to be provided under a supply agreement with EnerTech Environmental.

Readers may know that I am quite interested in gasification as a long-term sustainable option for delivering liquid fuels and/or electricity. (See previous essays on Choren, who have built the world’s first scaled-up BTL plant).

Incidentally, their CTO used to be my direct supervisor at ConocoPhillips in 2002-2003:

Dr. Harold A. Wright – Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer

Dr. Harold Wright leverages deep experience in fuel technology development to serve as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Rentech. He joined the Company in 2005 after serving as Vice President of Technology for Eltron Research & Development, headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. This followed a 14-year tenure with ConocoPhillips where he worked in various capacities including Director of gas-to-liquids (GTL) research and development from 2004-05 and Director of synthesis gas development from 2000-04. In these roles, he was responsible for synthesis gas technology development; GTL commercial reactor design; directing GTL catalyst development; and product upgrading technology development. He oversaw all aspects of the company’s scale-up of GTL technology, which resulted in a 400 barrel per day demonstration plant in Ponca City, Oklahoma. With 24 U.S. Patents issued to his credit, he is also a registered patent agent and is authorized to practice patent law before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Dr. Wright received a B.S. in chemical engineering, cum laude, from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Purdue University.

Returning to Texas from Hawaii this evening, with things returning to normal over the next few days.

16 thoughts on “Rentech Announces BTL Plant”

  1. I just wonder what is the future of relatively expensive biofuels of any kind (other than palm oil, or other oils extracted from trees grown in tropical climes), given the 120-year outlook for cheap and abundant natural gas.
    We have cheap natural gas coming out of our rear ends for generations. The advent of shale gas (along with the PHEV)is a game-changer.
    Google shale gas Haynesville and few other words. You will be astonished.
    There is no doom scenario, there is no meaningful consequence to Peak Oil.
    There is plenty of NG, but declining demand for crude oil.
    So what.
    That is no doom scenario that holds water. In fact, I think the NG-PHEV outlook augurs well for mankind, and especially urban residents. Cleaner air.

  2. I'm a bit surprised they are going to liquids, unless it is ethanol.

    If you can get someone to PAY you for your feedstock, this might work. Riverside County landfills charge $45 per ton for green waste. Rentech could charge say $30 per ton to take your waste for biomass gasification. Now if they can get cap&tax money from the fed, plus sell the CO2 for EOR, then they might have a workable business plan. At 600 bbl/day you won't get much economy of scale.

    But it will be a lot like recycling. It won't take too many plants like this and all the biomass is gone. Then $30 per ton becomes $10 per ton, then evenutally you have to pay people to bring you the waste.

  3. Seems like this area (SoCal, in spite of CARB!) is seeing a lot of different technologies getting applied, including dryer to convert biosolids into pelletized fuel for cement kilns (CO2 hogs that they are). It will be interesting to see who comes out ahead.

    BTW, King, I visited a gasification (pyrolysis) plant last Friday (5/1) in Romoland, CA. They handle all sorts of wastes, mainly MSW, but also biosolids. Basically they buy natural gas to provide the heat for the pyrolysis and then burn the syngas (50% H2, 20% CO, 20% CH4, 10% CO2 and trace) to generate electricity. They claim they get 500 – 750 kWh/t of MSW, and require a feedstock of less than 30% moisture. They also produce a char product.

    They said they need a NG feed to keep the pyrolysis reactor heated, though they seem to be rejigging the system to capture some of the waste heat.

    The system has a capacity of 50 tpd (2 MW generating capacity), currently it receives about 30 tpd.

    Not sure who pays for all this: at the time of our visit they were running the system without producing electricity. I doubt that tipping fees can pay for all that.

    Benny, as pointed out before: we need palm oil for food. Take the spent cooking oil and convert that into fuel, like I do.

    I also note that contrary to all your happy talk, oil seems to be rallying at $50/bbl (surprisingly high, considering the depth of this recession), and jumps to $60/bbl at the mere mention of the word “bottom”. Guess what happens if anybody says “recovery”?

  4. Optimist:
    Oil on the NYMEX is just manipulation and speculation.
    Do some serious googling on shale gas. You will be amazed. NG we have in spades, for decades. The energy world has changed in the last three years, due to new technology and shale gas. It’s good news–man’s innovation and risk-taking is paying off. In spades times 10.
    TOD has post today about another oil price collapse coming. Maybe. The globe is literally running out of storage space for oil. They are talking 2-3 mbd oversupply. And demand is not coming back, even if we have a recovery. Consumers ahve been burned, and remember it.
    Palm oil will be sold to highest bidder (although I favor pongamia pinnata tree oil) no matter what you or I say. So who cares if I like palm oil or not?
    The world’s supply of palm oil will rise steeply, for generations. It is profitable to farm, and yields are rising steadily.
    I agree with you, palm oil can be used twice, once for cooking and then again as diesel. I hope it is used that way.
    PHEVs and BEVs are inevitable if oil goes above $80 a barrel and stays there. CNG will be commonplace, first in fleets, then in one-off cars.
    One more oil price spike, and I think we see the end of the oil era. Buyers will migrate to cheaper or more-reliable options. Oil may become a backwater industry. The Oil Drum will become even more a rump-group of ossified fossil-industry snivelers.
    Biofuels? I think never a big player. Frankly, I wonder why RR posts about biofuels, and not NG. NG will be much, much bigger going forward. BTL just too expensive.
    The good news is that the doomer scenarios make less sense everyday. Even Bu$h jr. and Obama cannot stop innovation, and market adaptation.
    Remember my new credo: We have natural gas coming out of rear ends. We need not fear the future.

  5. “The Oil Drum will become even more a rump-group of ossified fossil-industry snivelers.”

    That must be a different Oil Drum. The only part that sounds right is ‘snivelers’. The one I am familiar with is full of silly suburban survivalists who somehow have not recognized that — if Olduvai arrives — the world will be full of nasty guys with big sticks who will take away their bicycles and make them hand over the produce from their back gardens.

    Sad. The Oil Drum used to be really great.

  6. Ben Cole said…..

    “PHEVs and BEVs are inevitable….”


    Here’s an item you might be interested in. It’s a quote from Martin Winterkorn head of Volkswagen:

    “With the high cost of fuel and increased pressure to be environmentally friendly, the future of the auto industry belongs to electric cars, VW chairman Martin Winterkorn told the Bild newspaper on Monday, June 16.

    “In the next few years, we are not going to do without gasoline and diesel motors, but the future belongs to the electric car,” the head of Volkswagen said in an interview with the mass-market paper.

    Bill Ford of Ford Motor Company and other heavy hitters in the auto industry have said similar things.

    When Lee Iacocca retired from Chrysler, he started a small EV company selling electric vehicles.
    At this very moment, Chrysler has a separate, profitable division within the company that sells only Neighborhood Electric Vehicles.

    Here’s another news item:

    Insight Becomes First Hybrid Vehicle to Rank as Best-Selling Vehicle* in Japan
    TOKYO, Japan, May 11, 2009 –

    “Honda Motor Co., Ltd. announced that Insight ranked as the industry’s best-selling car among new vehicle registrations* in Japan for the month of April 2009, with sales of 10,481 units (source: Japan Automobile Dealers Association). It is the first time in history for a hybrid model to be the industry’s best selling vehicle in Japan for any monthly sales period.”

    Sounds to me like the hybrid is alive and well.

    Because of air pollution problems in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics the Chinese Government created a special fleet of 800 all electric taxis.

    Warren Buffet recently invested half a Billion Dollars in BYD a Chinese company that makes electric cars.

    There are 70 million electric bicycles and small electric motor-scooters on the road right now in China. Gasoline powered scooters have been banned in many Chinese cities.

    Interest in CNG vehicles also seems to be picking up. Hyundai just announced recently that they are planning to come out with a CNG/electric hybrid which will be sold first in South Korea.

    The world is changing.

    …..”but the future belongs to the electric car.”

    Martin Winterkorn
    Chairman of Volkswagen


  7. Ben,

    I said:

    “Warren Buffet recently invested half a Billion Dollars in BYD a Chinese company that makes electric cars.”

    It should read:

    “invested a quarter of a Billion Dollars”, not half a billion.

    I think Buffet’s stake in BYD was $230 million.


  8. RR – you might enjoy the EPA’s claim that 1) there will be 100 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel production in US next year, and 2) that 70% of it will come from something called ‘Cello Fuels’ using gasification to make biodiesel out of MSW in southern Alabama! Anybody of ever heard of them? Cello said it only cost them $25 mil for a 20 mgy plant!? EPA apparently believes them?!
    Also you recently noted the maps for renewable energy planned projects – EPA’s list for cellulosic biofuels was just published last week with the above proposal – see this document EPA RFS2 RIA, and the table on p.181 and lots of fascinating reading before and after. It’s probably the best detailed overview of current cellulosic projects. EPA does discuss Choren’s European project a little – maybe you can update us soon on that one.

  9. John-

    It is a fascinating era. The world is changing before our eyes. I am beginning to seriously wonder about the future of the oil industry. It seems like oil thug states will turn it nto a backwater industry.
    Certainly, doom scenarios based on scarce oil are just shortsighted. Thanks to man’s innovation, engineers and scientists, and people willing to risk capital, we are brimming with options to oil.
    There may be doom scenarios out there. If you want to posit that man’s cruelty, and inability to form civil goverments will doom us, you might have my ear.
    Kinu: Re TOD. Well put. Correction accepted. TOD is distilling their reading and writing audience down to a few true doomsters.
    The great thing about RR’s reading audience is that, in general, we tolerate and enjoy different viewpoints. I like reading a different point of view, or new disruptive information. I sense a lot of people at this site do too.

  10. Oil on the NYMEX is just manipulation and speculation.
    Stop! My eyes are hurting. And boy, you will be unsufferable when oil hits $200/bbl next summer – assuming the global economy picks up by then.

    The energy world has changed in the last three years, due to new technology and shale gas.
    Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. So far, I notice no negative effect on oil prices.

    The globe is literally running out of storage space for oil.
    The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So far, the pudding is going for $60/bbl, in spite of your sentiments.

    If it’s all speculators, then guys like you can make a ton of money speculating that oil prices will drop, can’t you?

    Biofuels? I think never a big player.Not in their current form, and definitely not as palm oil, no matter how great the yields. What % of the plant’s weight is oil? What % of the annual growth end up in the recovered oil? As much as 5%? Case closed.

    For biofuels to work, it has to be BTL (or at least thermo-chemical), as close to 100% of the annual growth can be used.

    To hit the sweet spot, you need algae and open ocean. Nothing else competes. Algae in plastic tubes? You need how many miles of tube to get 1 bpd?

    We have natural gas coming out of rear ends.
    For now. You might have noticed that gas prices are highly volatile. But I guess if you believe it’s all speculators the realities doesn’t matter…

    Its great that all those guys are investing in EV. But investment is not the same as getting results. Scientific breakthroughs cannot be secured by investment, sadly. Even the rich and famous sometimes gets this wrong, as Bill Gates showed with Pacific Ethanol.

    Thanks to man’s innovation, engineers and scientists, and people willing to risk capital, we are brimming with options to oil.
    Maybe in an alternative universe. Where I live lack of willingness to risk capital is putting a major crimp on everything…

  11. RR-
    Certainly, your earlier posts were spot on. But I would say for every NG post, you put up a dozen on biofuels.
    NG is a bright spot, very encouraging how lush the supplies appear to be, for more than 100 years going forward. Surely you have ideas about how that will affect energy markets.
    Optimist: If you think oil will go to $200, head to the futures market. Right now, demand for oil is declining, and I would say is in long-term decline. It is a fossil industry (ha-ha).

  12. Benny,
    I’m waiting to see signs of life in the economy. I fear the prostitutians are stamping out all those green shoots. Keeping zombie banks and auto companies on (very expensive, as anyone scoring this at home might have noticed) life support. Using money we have yet to earn. Sorry, kids, forget about education. We need you to start working sooner. You, retirees, get back to work!

    I rather suspect that 10 years from now, Americans will be saying: If only we used some of that restraint that the Europeans showed…

  13. What "a**gas" doesn't want to say is that the shale gas costs upwards of $8 per million BTU.  This is several times as much as the historical cost of conventional NG, and will drive NG out of the market for electric generation.  If you burn $8/mmBTU NG in a gas turbine at 46% efficiency, you get electricity with a 6¢/kWh cost for fuel alone (plus it's highly variable with market conditions).  That's around the base cost of wind power, and the cost of wind is essentially fixed once the farm is built and financed.  In other words, whatever the current conditions are, the medium term will prove T. Boone Pickens right.  (In the long term, everything goes electric.)

  14. “Renewable electric power will be produced at the facility by using conventional high-efficiency gas turbine technology”?

    in which sense is this renewable power? does it partly come from biogas or any other ren.-power source? or is there a process that allows reuse?
    high-efficiency is good but it is not renewable… the percentage of renewable should be mentioned.

    Is this type of claims or that e.g. NP is CO2 free that… it might not emit so much CO2, ok good, but it’s not solving our energy consumption problems…
    Non-renewable materials should have a conversion factor into CO2 units (considering their energy content as well) to make people more aware. I agree/support to diversify the energy sources, it is good, and perhaps only by saying these things is the way to put them in the market…


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