By Jeff St. John
Rentech Inc. (NYSEMKT:RTK) wants to put its technology to the commercialization test with a Southern California plant that it says will churn out 600 barrels per day of ready-to-use diesel fuel and other products, as well as generate about 35 megawatts of electricity.
The Los Angeles-based company said Monday that its planned plant in Rialto, Calif. will have close to no carbon footprint because it will use renewable feedstocks, mainly wood wastes, as well as biosolids from a nearby EnerTech processing plant.
The plant is expected to be up and running by 2012, said Julie Dawoodjee, Rentech's vice president of investor relations. She would not give cost estimates for the project or the target cost of the fuel it would produce, except to say that the latter would be competitive with fossil-based fuels.
The plant is meant to convert waste into syngas using technology from SilvaGas Corp., which built a syngas plant in Burlington, Vt. with help from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Battelle that operated from 1998 to 2001.
That gas will be converted into "finished, ultra-clean" syngas via Rentech's technology, and then converted into fuels and other materials using technology developed by Rentech and Honeywell company UOP under a partnership the two companies formed in June.
Other companies like Ze-gen, Environmental Power's Microgy subsidiary and Nexterra Energy plan to make syngas from waste for use in electricity generation or industrial uses (see Biofuels and Electricity Take Out the Trash and The Iron Man of Greentech Gets $20M).
Rentech is a bit different, as its technology is based on the Fischer-Tropsch process, developed in the 1920s for turning carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas into liquid fuels. It's a well-known process – Nazi Germany used it to turn coal into liquid fuel for its war machine, and Sasol (NYSE:SSL) uses it today to provide much of South Africa's diesel fuel from coal.
More recently, the Chinese government has been looking into the process, and governors of Pennsylvania and Montana have plugged it as a way to convert those state's rich coal reserves into transportation fuel.
But the process as widely commercialized today has problems, including high greenhouse-gas emissions.
Rentech said its process, which uses a slurry bubble column reactor and iron as a catalyst, instead of the more typical fixed bed reactor technologies using a cobalt catalyst, is simpler to build and operate as well as more efficient.
Rentech has been running a test facility in Commerce City, Colo. since August, turning natural gas into about 10 barrels of fuel per day that is being used by customers including the U.S. Air Force, Dawoodjee said.