In iron making, carbon (coke) is mixed into molten iron oxide, and the result is elemental iron (Fe) and CO2. Alchemix’s new process, HydroMax,then introduces steam, which makes H2 while converting the Fe back to iron oxide. These two steps are done one after the other, and the fixed inventory of iron/iron oxide remains in place. (To produce a steady output stream, two reactors alternate, one in each mode.)
FeO + C –> Fe + CO2
Fe + H2O –> FeO + H2
By adding some tin to the melt, sulfur that comes in with the carbon is readily dealt with. Tin and sulfur form tin sulfide (SnS). TheSnS is combusted to form tin oxide(SnO2) and SO2. The SnO2 goes back into the melt to be reduced back to tin along with the iron oxide, and the SO2 is scrubbed from the exhaust (and used to make fertilizer).
Note that the H2 comes from the water, not from a hydrocarbon. The carbon merely provides process heat, and the reforming of the iron oxide.At the very high temperature (1300 deg C), any carbon compound will be quickly reduced to elemental carbon, opening the way to use low value or waste material feedstocks.
Alchemix has adapted widely used metal smelting reactors to both produce hydrogen and reduce iron oxide back into iron. The specific technology is the top-submerged lance furnace which is currently operating in more than thirty commercial installations worldwide. These furnaces routinely convert ores of tin, lead, copper, zinc and iron into metal. The principal function of these reactors is to obtain efficient contact between gases and molten liquids so that the oxygen in the liquid metal oxides can react quickly with the input carbon leaving only metal. The natural ores processed in these furnaces frequently contain more than 50% gangue (rock or other materials associated with the metal oxides). The absence of gangue substantially simplifies the HydroMax process relative to existing smelter operations.
To date, Alchemix has demonstrated its ability to produce hydrogen and reform metal oxide efficiently at both laboratory (kilogram) and demonstration plant scale (0.3 meter reactor diameter). Currently, engineering development work is being conducted at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) in Melbourne, Australia. These plants were chosen and adapted to the HydroMax technology since they are the same plants used to demonstrate the top-submerged lance technology as it was developed for use with a variety of metals. These demonstrations have validated the science which is the underpinning of the HydroMax technology. The next step is to attract partners for a larger commercial demonstration plant (2 meter) in the US.
Plants producing 50-150 million scf H2 per day can drastically beat the standard steam methane reforming in terms of cost (by as much as a factor of 10), in part because of the much cheaper feedstock (low value coal, sludge, etc., vs. natural gas) and the value of co-products (electricity and ammonium-sulfate fertilizer). The engineering firm Kvaerner has recently done a capital and operating cost analysis (summary available on the company website).
The chicken and egg nature of the “hydrogen economy” might suggest that large scale production won’t have a place until end uses and the delivery infrastructure are in place. The multipurpose nature of a Hydromax plant, however, makes it possible for a plant built today to supply an oil refinery, or produce ammonia or syngas, while awaiting the development of the H2 transportation market. HydroMax can also be used to gasify hydrocarbons, with the unique ability to control the ratio of H2 and CO in the resulting syngas (the steam and C are introduced together), which in turn can be made into the various liquid fuels.
The H2 (or syngas) and excess steam can be used directly to generate power, making an overall system that is far more efficient and cleaner than any solid fuel boiler. Imagine a mine mouth power plant using low value high sulfur coal. The overall efficiency would be close to 50% with a major reduction in CO2, and no emissions of sulfur, mercury or NOx.
Key implications — the flexibility provides immediate clean power and fuels from low grade carbon resources while we await the decades-long transition to a hydrogen economy; — the opportunity to dramatically reduce the US dependence on oil imports; — environmentally benign way for China, for instance, to use their resources which otherwise threaten the entire globe.
The company website has white papers, the cost analysis, and even a dramatic animated graphic of the process: http://www.alchemix.us
The company has attracted significant investment participation. As mentioned earlier, the goal now is to bring in partners to participate in the US commercial demonstration plant, e.g. four partners at $10M each, whose investment would gain them a preferred position and a credit towards the royalties of a full size plant.
Contact Robert Horton, President