The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is collaborating with both industrial and academic partners to develop technologies to help enable commercialization of biofuels produced from lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks. The focus of this paper is to report how various operating processes, utilized in-house and by collaborators, influence the catalytic activity during conditioning of biomass-derived syngas. Efficient cleaning and conditioning of biomass-derived syngas for use in fuel synthesis continues to be a significant technical barrier to commercialization. Multifunctional, fluidizable catalysts are being developed to reform undesired tars and light hydrocarbons, especially methane, to additional syngas, which can improve utilization of biomass carbon. This approach also eliminates both the need for downstream methane reforming and the production of an aqueous waste stream from tar scrubbing. This work was conducted with NiMgK/Al2O3 catalysts. These catalysts were assessed for methane reforming performance in (i) fixed-bed, bench-scale tests with model syngas simulating that produced by oak gasification, and in pilot-scale, (ii) fluidized tests with actual oak-derived syngas, and (iii) recirculating/regenerating tests using model syngas. Bench-scale tests showed that the catalyst could be completely regenerated over several reforming reaction cycles. Pilot-scale tests using raw syngas showed that the catalyst lost activity from cycle to cycle when it was regenerated, though it was shown that bench-scale regeneration by steam oxidation and H2 reduction did not cause this deactivation. Characterization by TPR indicates that the loss of a low temperature nickel oxide reduction feature is related to the catalyst deactivation, which is ascribed to nickel being incorporated into a spinel nickel aluminate that is not reduced with the given activation protocol. Results for 100 h time-on-stream using a recirculating/regenerating reactor suggest that this type of process could be employed to keep a high level of steady-state reforming activity, without permanent deactivation of the catalyst. Additionally, the differences in catalyst performance using a simulated and real, biomass-derived syngas stream indicate that there are components present in the real stream that are not adequately modeled in the syngas stream. Heavy tars and polycyclic aromatics are known to be present in real syngas, and the use of benzene and naphthalene as surrogates may be insufficient. In addition, some inorganics found in biomass, which become concentrated in the ash following biomass gasification, may be transported to the reforming reactor where they can interact with catalysts. Therefore, in order to gain more representative results for how a catalyst would perform on an industrially-relevant scale, with real contaminants, appropriate small-scale biomass solids feeders or slip-streams of real process gas should be employed.
Kimberly A. Magrini-Bair, Whitney S. Jablonski, Yves O. Parent, Matthew M. Yung
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