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NatGas Gasoline Fueling Research

For those visionaries that want a "clean" transportation fuel without the additional vehicle and fueling infrastructure costs associated with natural gas vehicles, small privately held New Jersey-based Primus Green Energy is working to market natural gas-derived gasoline.

The Israel Corp.-backed alternative fuel company plans to begin building a commercial-scale natural gas-to-liquids (GTL) production facility starting next year if it can secure an additional $100 million in backing on top of Israel Corp.'s $50 million investment. It will not disclose the proposed location.

"The company is discussing financing options with potential partners to build its first commercial plant with groundbreaking targeted for 2014," a Primus spokesperson told NGI. "Financing will follow after we go out into the markets this fall with our investment bank and an independent engineer's report describing the performance of our demonstration plant."

Primus executives are betting that their special blend of gasoline can compete alongside traditional fuel supplies, compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). The essence of an advanced process originated back in the 1970s in New Zealand by the government and a unit of former Mobil Oil Corp. to produce a synthetic gas (syngas) from natural gas and/or biomass.

The syngas was a "fuel precursor" composed primarily of hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO), according to Primus. George Boyajian, vice president for business development, said his company has figured out a way to make the old Mobil process more energy efficient, and thus, economical, which could compete with CNG and LNG. "[We] make a gasoline product that uses the same infrastructure as conventional gasoline, only it is a cleaner, more stable, higher quality gasoline" that sells for about $2.00/gallon.

Noting that all currently available GTL processes use syngas as an intermediate step, Boyajian said the Primus 93-octane gasoline produces less carbon dioxide (CO2) and zero sulfur, compared to traditional gasoline, and the Primus product may be mixed with traditional gasoline. The company's breakthroughs have come from "incremental improvements" in catalysts, process control and other process. "There is no chemical breakthrough."

"The steam reforming of methane is a standard commercial technology," according to Primus. However, the syngas produced by the process has "an unusually high ratio of H2 to CO [greater than 2.2:1], making it ideal for liquid fuel synthesis. The syngas is then 'scrubbed' -- also a standard commercial technology -- to remove CO2 and other impurities such as sulfur prior to the liquid fuel synthesis process."

Ahead of its plans for a commercial-scale production facility, Primus is in the process of commissioning a syngas-to-gasoline (natural gas), or STG+, demonstration plant at its Hillsborough, NJ, headquarters. The demonstration plant is expected to begin operations this fall, producing 10,000 gallons of fuel annually, according to the company. The process combines previous methanol synthesis and related processes into a "single-loop" process that converts syngas directly into gasoline without producing intermediate liquids.

STG+ is a proprietary technology that the company markets as a low-cost way to convert syngas into gasoline. In the process, syngas is taken through a catalytic, thermochemical process involving four reactors -- methanol synthesis, dimethyl ether synthesis, gasoline synthesis and gasoline treatment -- before the mixture is separated into water and gasoline.

Meanwhile, three German firms this month began a three-year project that will attempt to make CO2 into a useful component of various industrial processes, starting with abundant gas supplies as a feedstock. Eventually, the multi-disciplinary project backed by Germany's government is to develop a pilot plant design and initial concepts for integrating technology into the chemical and steel industries. Units of BASF Corp., The Linde Group and ThyssenKrupp are seeking to develop an "innovative process technology" initially with gas that would use CO2 as a raw material with offsetting climate change impacts. A BASF unit and research partners in Dusseldorf, Germany and TU Dortmund University are helping develop the two-stage process.

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