Saturday, October 4, 2008

Scientists Rediscover Fischer-Tropsch Process

Using Plants Instead of Petroleum to Make Jet Fuel.

Chemical engineers in North Dakota have successfully turned oil from plants—canola (rapeseed), coconuts and soybeans—into jet fuel indistinguishable from the conventional kind, according to U.S. government tests. Working with the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), scientists at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota turned these plant oils into fuel that had a similar density, energy content and even freezing point.

"It's got a freeze point of –47 degrees Celsius (–52.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Anyone familiar with biodiesel can tell you that's no small feat," says chemical engineer Chad Wocken, EERC environmental technologies research manager. "It's processed so that it contains only the same hydrocarbon molecules present in petroleum fuel."

Although he declined to explain the exact details of the process, Wocken says it is thermocatalytic—in other words, the engineers heat the plant oils in the presence of an undisclosed [aka Fischer-Tropsch] catalyst to create a slew of petroleum products. In fact, the process is not unlike conventional oil refining in that it produces everything from the kerosene used as aviation fuel to regular gasoline.

"The processing costs would be similar and comparable to petroleum oil refining," and perhaps even less expensive, Wocken notes, "because you're not dealing with contaminants like sulfur."

Of course, the biofuel's ultimate price tag is yet to be determined as only "gallons" of it have been brewed compared with the more than 60 million gallons (225 million liters) of jet fuel consumed daily in the U.S. But it will in large part depend on the price to grow the crops themselves—all have been fluctuating in recent months due to newly volatile global commodity markets.

Virgin Atlantic has flown a jumbo jet on a combination of conventional jet fuel and biofuel made from palm oil, and a jet powered solely by biodiesel has stayed aloft for more than 30 minutes—albeit with a special device to keep its fuel from freezing at high altitude. And the EERC fuel is not the only bio-based jet fuel available: UOP, LLC, a division of Honeywell Specialty Materials, has a similar fuel made from vegetable and animal oils, whereas algae-grower Solazyme, Inc., has derived a jet fuel from pond scum that meets ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials International) standards.

"We did this outside the DARPA program," says Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson. "As green as people want to be, they don't want to pay more for fuel."

The EERC is currently in the process of producing 25 gallons (95 liters) of the bio–jet fuel for ground testing in a jet engine as early as next month. "The thing that needs to happen is a purchase order to come through from the Air Force so we can get [the] investment to build that first plant," Wocken says. "We could get a plant operational in two to five years if there were a commitment to buy the fuel."
For the record, the United States Air Force is well aware of the Fischer-Tropsch process: Wild Green Yonder: Flying the Environmentally Friendly Skies on Alternative Fuels. Kerosine is alternative fuel?


Anaconda said...


What's significant about the cited report in the post is not that Fischer-Tropsch processes can turn vegtable oil into jet fuel, although that is noteworthy, it's that with catalysts hydrogen and carbon have such a high chemical affinity for combining into hydrocarbon molecules.

Catalysts, along with temperature and pressure, are central to the thermal-molecular formation of hydrocarbons.

Anaconda said...


Perhaps, you have looked at the post which has a map showing seafloor spreading around the world.

In order for the Earth to remain the same size there has to be an equal amount of subduction, not just some subduction, but an equal amount of subduction.

So, for every foot of seafloor spreading, there has to be a foot of subduction; that's common sense.

Is there evidence that subduction happens in equal measure with seafloor spreading?

As one example, note the seafloor spreading surrounding Anarctica.

In fact, the seafloor spreading surrounds Anarctica in a full 360 degree circle.

Is there evidence of an equal amount of subduction around anarctica?

Quantum_Flux said...

Hey, that's very good to know. The catalyst used in the decarboxylation of medium or long chain triglycerides is the same catalyst used in Fischer-Tropsch method for the synthetic conversion of coals to petrol.

Quantum_Flux said...

Anaconda, I think the Earth may be expanding due to the Earth's core cooling down and the iron in it going from a Face Centered Cubic lattice (FCC) which is 1.09 times as dense as the Body Centered Cubic lattice (BCC) that it is transitioning to (that transition apparently happens at 1180 kelvin at 1 atm of pressure but probably at a different temperature with different pressures involved).

1 Note: The temperature of the Earth's Core is estimated to be between between 5,000-6,000 degrees Celsius, and drops off with radial distances away from the core.

2 Note: This expansion causes the drifing of the plates, and that explains why there are no subduction ridges as evidenced by the rock ages.

Anaconda said...


I can't speak to your theory about iron expanding, I just don't know enough to say, one way or the other.

You need to explain what you mean when you state: "This expansion causes the drifing of the plates, and that explains why there are no subduction ridges as evidenced by the rock ages."

Why would "drifting of the plates" result in no subduction?

Also, there is the question of whether continents "drift" as in float on a buoyant surface.

Neal Adams has an analogy of continental structure: "They're planted tree trunks, planted in the ocean bottom part of the under sea plate." Scroll down the link to the picture of the Earth without water.

(This picture highlights, in my mind anyway, the possibility of continents being "rooted" rather than "adrift.")

This analogy seems to agree with scientific observation as reported in Stanley Keith's Cracks of the World:

"If the above global-scale observations are accepted, then mobilistic, terrane-based paradigms of plate tectonics may have to be revised. The mobilistic paradigm of plate tectonics has traditionally assumed that the continental plates are rigid and “float” as passive rafts on a global “conveyor belt” system linked to oceanic-spreading processes. The above mega-shear observations suggest that the continents are also active participants in the oceanic-spreading process. A global network of transform faults apparently links ocean basin to ocean basin through the continents. The continents may not be tectonically inert, rigid blocks: rather, they are active, kinematic participants of the oceanic spreading process. Indeed, the “pre-breakup” fracture architecture of the continents may control the specific locations of the emergent oceanic fracture systems during incipient breakups of continental assemblies such as Pangea. Also, the motion between continental and oceanic plates is not free-faced or disconnected at the trench plate boundaries. Tears in subducting oceanic crust and fracture zones in oceanic crust are anchored to, and connected with, analog fractures in the adjacent and overriding continental plate at the subduction zone interface. They are long lived and play important roles in hydrocarbon formation."

Highlight these two sentences:

"A global network of transform faults apparently links ocean basin to ocean basin through the continents."


"Tears in subducting oceanic crust and fracture zones in oceanic crust are anchored to, and connected with, analog fractures in the adjacent and overriding continental plate at the subduction zone interface."

What evidence does Keith present that there is a "subduction zone interface" seperating the adjacent continental structure and ocean basins?

Certainly, on the East coast of North and South America there doesn't appear to be a "subduction zone interface."

Also, on the West coast of Europe and Africa there doesn't appear to be a "subduction zone interface."

Rather, one runs right into the other. the break at the continental edge is between material not construction: granite for the continent and basalt for the ocean basin.

My interpretation of this passage from Keith's work is as follows:

Structurally, the continents and ocean basins are integrated by evidence of analogous fracture patterns. Quantum_Flux, recall the diagram of Mexico in Keith's report.

Continents and ocean basins have analogous construction which does suggest the possibility that continents are "rooted" in the same underlying "foundation."

If so, continents don't drift, but rather are "pushed up and out" from a central "fixed point" and Seafloor spreading "fills in" as the Earth expands outward.

The following is an axiom of Continental Drift, Tectonic Plate theory: Seafloor spreading must be equaled by subduction.

Failure to detect equal amounts of seafloor spreading and subduction falsifies the theory.

Quantum_Flux: your explanation for a lack of observable subduction needs elaberation because Continental Drift theory is falsified without a detailed accounting of the lack of observable subduction.

I have an open mind, I am not convinced either way. But the unquestioning acceptance of Continental Drift, Tectonic Plate theory is over.

Quantum_Flux said...

I mean the plates are drifting AKA the spherical positions {radius, theta "longitude angle", and phi "lattitude angle"} are changing relative to each other because the fault line in the Pacific Ocean appears to be spreading at greater rate than the fault line in the Atlantic Ocean as the Earth is expanding.