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30 June, 2021 - 21:28 By Tony Quested

Nevada pilot for JM and bp sustainable fuels venture

Scientists and engineers from Cambridge-based Johnson Matthey have been awarded the RSC’s 2021 Dalton Division Horizon prize for a collaboration with bp to create bp-JM Fischer-Tropsch Technology – a renewable route to sustainable aviation fuels created from household waste.

The waste, which would otherwise be sent to landfill and decompose to form methane, will first be separated from any recyclable items before being converted to syngas and used to make sustainable aviation fuel, which burns cleaner and with fewer particles.

The team developed a new catalyst formation – using concepts from fundamental inorganic chemistry, optimising cobalt dispersion and molecular interactions – as well as a new carrier for the catalyst that increases its surface area and removes the heat given off during the reaction.

The fuel will initially be deployed by Fulcrum BioEnergy in Nevada in 2021. Once operational, the plant – the first of its kind in the US – is expected to convert approximately 175,000 tons of household waste into approximately 11 million gallons of fuel each year – the equivalent of fuel needed for more than 180 transatlantic return flights.

It is a vital step in the transition to low carbon fuels in the aviation industry – one of the most challenging sectors to adapt due to the energy density needed in aircraft.

Mark Sutton, business development director for Johnson Matthey, said: “It’s great to see the team’s hard work and dedication recognised again at such an important industry awards. The innovations the team has achieved have only been possible through close collaboration between catalysis and engineering specialists at JM and bp.”

In the Fischer Tropsch process, carbon monoxide and hydrogen gases react to produce a range of mainly paraffinic (alkane) hydrocarbons. Johnson Matthey has collaborated with BP to produce the proprietary fixed-bed Fischer Tropsch (FT) technology – a simple and robust system which forms the heart of the company’s gas-to-liquids process.

Unlike slurry reactors, the Johnson Matthey DAVY™/BP fixed-bed FT reactor has no moving parts and requires no continuous catalyst addition or separation. Instead, the proprietary BP catalyst runs at constant conditions and delivers a high-purity product that is easy to upgrade.

All of these factors amount to a simple and robust process with a high level of reliability and product quality, JM says.

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