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Pure Steam Reforming of Municipal Solid Waste

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In response to global environmental challenges, Elementa Group Inc. (Elementa) has developed a pure steam reforming process for Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and other waste feedstock materials to produce clean and efficient renewable energy. The Elementa technology is a novel patented Waste-to-Gas conversion technology and is based on a unique pure steam reforming process that uses an indirectly fired rotary kiln at a high temperature and non-oxidizing environment. This technology thermo-chemically breaks down carbon based materials into a high quality synthesis gas (syngas), leading to a greater than 95% conversion of carbonaceous content in the waste feed into a useful and clean syngas. The developed process effectively diverts MSW from landfills, converts it into clean energy and significantly reduces greenhouse gases. Elementa's technology will be able to generate not only a very clean syngas which can be used most directly for generating combined heat and electrical power and/or alternately synthesized into liquid fuels, where feeds can be sourced from a variety of wastes and renewable sources.
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The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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Pure Steam Reforming of Municipal Solid Waste
Ernie Dueck, Zoltan Kish and Donald Kirk*
Elementa Group Inc., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
*Also Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Abstract
In response to global environmental challenges, Elementa Group Inc. (Elementa) has developed a pure
steam reforming process for Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and other waste feedstock materials to
produce clean and efficient renewable energy. The Elementa technology is a novel patented Waste-to-
Gas conversion technology and is based on a unique pure steam reforming process that uses an
indirectly fired rotary kiln at a high temperature and non-oxidizing environment. This technology
thermo-chemically breaks down carbon based materials into a high quality synthesis gas (syngas),
leading to a greater than 95% conversion of carbonaceous content in the waste feed into a useful and
clean syngas. The developed process effectively diverts MSW from landfills, converts it into clean energy
and significantly reduces greenhouse gases. Elementa's technology will be able to generate not only a
very clean syngas which can be used most directly for generating combined heat and electrical power
and/or alternately synthesized into liquid fuels, where feeds can be sourced from a variety of wastes
and renewable sources.
Introduction
Reducing the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is one of the greatest
environmental challenges of our time. In recent years, the quantity of globally produced waste has
increased significantly. Typically, the waste is sent to landfills and the energy in waste is essentially lost,
creating mountains of trash, emitting harmful pollutants into our air, water and soil. In landfill the
biodegradable components of waste decompose and emit methane a greenhouse gas 21 times more
harmful than carbon dioxide and the cause of significant environmental problems [1]. With recent price
inflation and increasing scarcity of traditional fuels (oil, natural gas, coal), there has been a trend
towards the use of waste as feedstock for alternative energy including sources such as Municipal Solid
Waste (MSW), industrial waste, biomass, etc. The most common technology for treating waste is
incineration. Incineration is the combustion of waste using an excess of oxygen to ensure complete
combustion. Incineration can be identified as a baseline competitor technology [2]. However,
incineration is wasteful of resources providing low energy conversion efficiency. Incineration converts
only about 20% of the chemical energy of the solids into thermal and electrical energy. Gasification
and/or plasma enhanced gasification represent potential alternatives for waste treatment [2].
Gasification technology is based on partial oxidation (POx) of the waste. Because of the
oxidation/incineration component of these competitor systems that use POx they will generate noxious
oxides. In addition, gasification of waste typically requires extensive and expensive waste feedstock pre-
treatment and the produced syngas will be significantly diluted by the oxidation process which includes
the nitrogen content of air [3]. Therefore, the heating value of syngas produced from the POx
gasification process is significantly reduced. The lower quality syngas fuel generated from partial
The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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oxidation gasification can be run in reciprocating engines, but generally cannot be used as a fuel for
cleaner burning and more efficient gas turbines, due to its relatively low heating value. Another
competing technology is pyrolysis. This system is anoxic but generates a problematic mixture of syngas,
tars and pyrolytic char. Pyrolysis systems generate only about 40% of their energy end product as
syngas, with ~30% as condensable oils and tars and ~30% as pyrolytic chars. This means that for
electricity generation, pyrolysis systems typically cannot cool or clean the syngas before burning these
mixed products (which then must include both particulate and volatilized contaminants) in a steam
boiler combustion unit; otherwise they will lose the energy benefit of the condensable oils and tars. The
end result is then not a lot different from simply burning contaminated wastes in the first instance. The
energy recovery is then very analogous to incineration, i.e. low energy efficiency plus the additional
challenge of developing a cleaning plant which must be very similar to that for incineration, in order to
meet environmental emission limits.
Objective
In response to the environmental and technological challenges posed by waste and its conversion to
energy, the objective of the present work by Elementa is to develop an alternative green technology to
produce clean and efficient renewable energy from waste feedstock.
Background
Elementa is a Canadian based private company, with its head office located in Niagara-on-the-Lake,
Ontario, Canada. The company was incorporated on January 30th, 2003, in the province of Ontario as
EnQuest Power Corporation, with a name change to Elementa Group Inc. (Elementa) on October 29th,
2008. Elementa is a Research & Development Company that offers a unique patented technology, a
Waste-to-Gas conversion technology, which is a new generation of waste conversion to produce clean
and efficient renewable energy from waste feedstock materials (urban, municipal, industrial,
commercial, forest, and agricultural waste) [4]. The technology has been run and proven to convert
carbonaceous material into a high quality clean syngas at its Pilot Plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario,
Canada. Sample pictures of the Pilot Plant are shown below.
In Sault Ste. Marie a full commercial plant design is underway and build of the first commercial plant
designed for ~50 000 tonne/year of MSW is scheduled to start early in 2014 to supply environmentally
clean electricity to the local grid. The Elementa web-site is: www.elementagroup.com.
The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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Figure 1 Elementa Pilot Plant
Figure 2 Steam Reformation Kiln
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Technology
Elementa has developed a pure steam reforming process for Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to produce
clean and efficient renewable energy from this and other waste feedstock. Pure steam reforming refers
to the absence of air or oxygen in the process. The Elementa technology is a novel patented Waste-to-
Gas conversion technology and is based on a unique pure steam reforming process that uses an
indirectly fired rotary kiln at a high temperature and non-oxidizing environment. This technology
thermo-chemically breaks down carbon based materials into a high quality synthesis gas (syngas),
leading to a greater than 95% conversion of carbonaceous content in the waste feed into a useful and
clean syngas. The main products of the MSW (CaHbOc) steam reformation are hydrogen (H2), carbon
monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and light hydrocarbons (CxHy) which can be shown
in a simplified representation as follows.
CaHbOc + SH2O dH2 + eCO + fCO2 + gCH4 + hCxHy
Where the a, b, c averaged quantitative values of the waste molecule are typically in the order of ~6, 10
and 3 for MSW, where S represents stoichiometric water and on a volume % basis the products d, e, f, g
and h as measured for the Elementa process are typically of the order of ~ 45-50%(H2), 20-25%(CO),
15%( CO2), 10-14% (CO2) and 2-4%(CxHy).
The Elementa process has a number of advantages over traditional incineration and gasification of
waste feedstock, including elimination of the formation of dioxins, furans and nitrous and sulphur oxides
within the reforming process, a significant reduction in the process gas volume and a reduced volume of
residual waste. The developed process effectively diverts MSW from landfills, converts it into clean
energy and reduces greenhouse gases.
The Elementa technology uses commercially proven off the shelf equipment and has applied these to
the Elementa process in a unique and proprietary manner to provide a break-through solution to the
challenge of waste conversion. These have been applied to the reforming of municipal solid waste
(MSW) and to the conditioning, cleaning and processing of the resulting syngas to ensure that
contaminants have been removed from the produced syngas.
Elementa's technology will be able to generate not only a very clean syngas, but heat and power from a
variety of wastes and renewable sources. The developed process diverts MSW from landfills, converts it
into clean energy and significantly reduces greenhouse gases. Landfills release many smog related
components, components of acid rain, and persistent organic pollutants, from both natural processes
and landfill fires. Landfill fires, earth movements, groundwater flows, and development all contribute to
landfill leachate to eventually seep and contaminate nearby ecosystems. By making landfill practices
almost obsolete, Elementa will reduce or eliminate these potential risks today, and for generations to
come. The application of the Elementa technology will eliminate pollution created by landfills and
incineration and gasification processes, such as air, soil and water contaminations. The benefit of
treating waste using the Elementa process is that by virtue of its non-incinerating methodology, the
waste material is broken down into its simpler elements, with no noxious oxides being formed and then
combined with its ground-breaking and proprietary heat recovery and cleaning technology that is able
The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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to condense, filter, neutralize and segregate noxious contaminants, including heavy metals contained in
the waste feed such that the end useable syngas is an exceptionally clean and beneficial end product.
Excess recovered unused water will be cleaned and discharged to the sanitary sewer system. And finally
the Elementa process will reduce the MSW feed product by up to 98% in volume with a 2% by volume
inert residual, where the residual being inert can potentially be used as a construction aggregate
material.
The syngas and residual waste heat can be used to power combined cycle gas turbines, reciprocating gas
engines or potentially fuel cells for the generation of electricity and hydrogen. On the other hand
because of the quality and high hydrogen to carbon monoxide ratio of its syngas, Elementa’s technology
is ideally suited for and can be coupled with a Gas-to-Liquids technology (e.g. Fischer-Tropsch) to
produce higher value liquid synthetic fuels. Elementa’s technology is one of the most promising
pathways of energy production as a thermo-chemical conversion of waste feedstock into syngas and has
the following key elements and benefits.
Uses an indirectly fired rotary kiln reactor for the steam reformation of carbon based materials
Allows for robust process operation of various heterogeneous feedstock (including MSW and
biomass) with a significantly lower cost for pre-processing this feedstock
Elementa's technology provides for a true non-incineration process that is, the total exclusion
of air and hence oxygen from the process
Steam reformation of the waste is performed using a simple, single stage and non-catalytic
process
Conversion of carbonaceous materials into a high hydrogen content syngas, up to 50% by
volume, and an H2/CO ratio over 2 satisfying gas to liquids input requirements, with heating
values typically twice those of competitor systems
Emission is well below prescribed Ontario, European and California guidelines avoiding the
generation of highly toxic emission gases that full incineration and partial oxidation typically
generate
Uses a unique scrubbing and gas cleaning system based on commercial off-the-shelf equipment
to produce clean syngas and minimizes waste water and solid residue
Elementa has designed a highly efficient and cost effective system, which maximizes heat
recovery and provides for beneficial use of waste heat for internal processes
The Elementa system provides for an electrical energy conversion efficiency level that exceeds
30% for small plants and will be well above 40% for large plants which is significantly higher than
competitor technologies producing electrical conversion efficiencies in the range of 15% to 20%.
The base concepts have been run and proven at the Elementa Group Pilot Plant, in Sault Ste Marie,
Ontario, Canada. The flow diagram of the Pilot Plant is shown Figure 3.
The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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Figure 3 Flow Diagram of the Elementa SR Process Model
The Pilot Plant was run from 2007 through 2011, achieving a syngas with close to 50% hydrogen and a
heating value (HHV) of ~13MJ/Nm3 (~350 BTU/ft3). The developed process is ideally suited to convert
waste to higher-end products (ie a clean high heating value syngas and provides a near optimum syngas
composition that can be used for producing liquid fuels) and recovers energy, more economically and
efficiently and on a more appropriate scale than other conversion technologies. Syngas quality and the
high hydrogen content achieved by the Elementa pure steam reforming process is as shown in the Gas
Chromatograph data typical for Pilot Plant testing as given in Figure 4 and Table 1.
The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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Figure 4 Elementa Syngas Key Constituents from Source Test #4
Table 1
Elementa Clean Syngas Main Components
Component
Volume %
Hydrogen
45 - 50
Carbon Monoxide
20 - 25
Carbon Dioxide
15 - 16
Methane
10 - 14
Light Hydrocarbons
2 - 4
Typical minor components in the Elementa produced raw and clean syngas is presented in Table 2.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
10:25
10:40
10:55
11:10
11:25
11:40
11:55
12:10
12:25
12:40
12:55
13:08
13:23
13:38
13:53
14:08
14:23
14:38
14:53
15:08
15:23
15:39
15:54
16:09
16:24
16:39
16:54
% Volume
Time
Source Test #4 Syngas Key Constituents
CO
CO2
CH4
HHCs C2~C7
Elementa Gas Chromatograph Measurements of Syngas Constituents
Measured HV ~13MJ/Nm3 (~ 350 BTU/ft3)
The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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Table 2
Contaminant Content in Elementa Syngas
Component
Raw Syngas
Clean Syngas
Dimension
Hydrogen Chloride
1.22
0.07
mg/Nm3
Hydrogen Fluoride
1.20
0.07
mg/Nm3
Hydrogen Sulphide
440
25
mg/Nm3
Hydrogen Cyanide
133
8
mg/Nm3
Ammonia
3,435
16
mg/Nm3
Particulate Matter
18,000
10
mg/Nm3
Tar
17,000
10
mg/Nm3
Mercury
0.2
0.002
mg/Nm3
These data show the effectiveness of the Elementa cleaning system.
Emissions’ testing was run as a Source Test to meet the Ontario Ministry of Environment Guideline A-7
and achieved gas cleanliness significantly lower than prescribed by these guidelines and also well below
California and EU emission guidelines as shown in Table 3.
Table 3
Elementa Emissions Source Test Comparisons vs. Various Regulatory Limits
Parameter
Units
Ontario A-7
EU
California
Elementa Source Test
Particulate Matter
mg/Nm³
17
9
16
0.34
Cadmium
µg/Nm³
14
46
10
0.04
Lead
µg/Nm³
142
n/a
140
0.63
Mercury
µg/Nm³
20
46
60
0.14
Dioxins and Furans
ng/Nm³
0.08
0.092
9
0.002
Hydrochloric acid
mg/Nm³
27
9
27
0.59
Sulphur Dioxide
mg/Nm³
56
46
56
8
Nitrogen Oxides
mg/Nm³
207
183
202
177
Organic Matter
mg/Nm³
66
9
n/a
1.214
Note: NOx emissions as tested represent flare NOx values whereas commercial gas turbine and/or recip engines with low
NOx combustors will achieve further reductions in NOx levels.
The Elementa technology will eliminate pollution created by landfill, incineration and gasification
processes. The incineration and partial oxidation systems generate noxious oxides, which are precluded
in the Elementa system. These competing systems typically do not achieve complete conversion of the
carbonaceous content into a useful syngas product. This underlines the essential differentiation of the
Elementa technology with competitor systems.
There are a number of published reports comparing the various attributes of the developing thermal
conversion processes and Elementa sees these as being in an evolving state. Elementa has made
comparisons of its process and design with competitor systems and technologies and based on the
The International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013, Vienna, 7th 11th October 2013
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inherent benefits and positive attributes of a non-oxidizing, pure steam reforming process and using a
robust, low maintenance rotary kiln that is very forgiving of material variability; there are seen
important distinctions and advantages for the Elementa system. These comparisons will be the subject
of future publications and/or reports.
The benefit of treating waste using the Elementa process is that by virtue of its non-incinerating
methodology, the waste material is broken down into its simpler elements, with no noxious oxides being
formed and then combined with its ground-breaking and proprietary cleaning technology that is able to
condense, filter, neutralize and segregate any noxious contaminants, including heavy metals contained
in the waste feed such that the end useable syngas is an exceptionally clean and beneficial end product.
Conclusion
The Elementa process provides a major enhancement in the methodology of clean energy production
from waste. One of the most promising pathways of energy production as a thermo-chemical
conversion of waste feedstock into synthesis gas (syngas) has been developed at Elementa. The
developed Elementa technology represents a new generation of clean, high efficiency thermo-chemical
waste conversion system to produce renewable energy from waste feedstock with significantly reduced
environmental impacts than other waste disposal and waste conversion methods. Elementa’s
technology changes the concept of “waste” and will replace a portion of fossil fuels, providing a
predictable, cost effective and environmentally sound supply of clean energy. The Elementa Energy
from Waste” process remains one of the most technically promising alternative technologies currently
available.
References
1. http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html
2. Thermal Methods of Municipal Waste Treatment,
http://www.massbalance.org/downloads/projectfiles/1826-00237.pdf
3. J. Rezaiyan, N. P. Cheremisinoff, Gasification Technologies: A Primer for Engineers and Scientists,
Taylor & Francis, 2005
4. J. Zwierschke, E. G. Dueck, Method for Steam Reforming Carbonaceous Material, US Patent,
Patent No: 7,794,689 B2
... Utilizing an indirectly heated kiln, the waste steam reformation technology is a novel and unconventional Waste-to-Energy technology, which allows for robust operation of various heterogeneous feedstocks (e.g., MSW, industrial waste, sewage sludge, waste biomass, used tires and medical waste) with high moisture content and significantly reduces the requirements for pre-processing feedstock [3]. The high quality of the produced syngas and residual waste heat can be used to power combined cycle gas turbines, reciprocating gas engines or potentially fuel cells for the generation of electricity and "green" hydrogen. ...
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Book
In contrast to traditional combustion, gasification technologies offer the potential for converting coal and low or negative-value feedstocks, such as petroleum coke and various waste materials into usable energy sources or chemicals. With a growing number of companies operating and marketing systems based on gasification concepts worldwide, this book combines the latest information and real-world experience in developing gasification technologies. Gasification Technologies: A Primer for Engineers and Scientists discusses gasification techniques and the benefits of each technology, including gas clean-up technologies and those used in hybrid systems and fuel cells. It also accounts for the primary products that are recovered and explains how these products are purified and can be used as fuel or for applications in petrochemical processes. The book describes the conditions in which optimal value intermediate products can be recovered, focusing on key factors such as oxygen or air blown reactor, operating temperature, internal and external heating, and reactor design. The authors also establish how gasification can help meet renewable energy targets, address concerns about global warming, and contribute to a better carbon management or achieving Kyoto Protocol commitments. Gasification Technologies provide a multidimensional and well-rounded examination of current technology, research, applications, and development challenges for the commercialization of this increasingly popular technology.
Method for Steam Reforming Carbonaceous Material
  • J Zwierschke
  • E G Dueck
J. Zwierschke, E. G. Dueck, Method for Steam Reforming Carbonaceous Material, US Patent, Patent No: 7,794,689 B2