Technology assessment of plasma arc reforming for greenhouse gas mitigation: a simulation study applied to a coal to liquids process

08 November 2016

Coal to liquids processes contribute significantly to coal rich countries like South Africa. However, their sustainability is affected by high greenhouse gas emissions and low carbon productivity. This paper explores the future possibility of applying plasma arc reforming to turn waste carbon dioxide into a useful chemical feedstock. This was achieved through a technology assessment that was performed by applying existing modelling techniques to an existing industrial liquid fuel from coal process. The approach was: 1) the selection of an appropriate plasma reforming technology, 2) evaluation of the potential impact on an industrial coal to liquids process and 3) assessment of commercial status of the chosen technology. Simulation results showed that carbon dioxide based plasma arc reformers are most compatible with coal to liquids processes. Plasma arc reforming of methane is capable of improving carbon efficiency of the coal to liquids process by up to 14% by carbon recovery from carbon dioxide. However, non-catalytic reforming of methane is not yet ready for commercial implementation, with a technology readiness level of 4. High electrical energy consumption and high technical risk in scale-up were identified as key barriers to technology commercialisation. The potential for success of plasma arc reformers would be enhanced by availability of low carbon electricity and characterisation of plasma reforming kinetics to minimise technical risk. This paper highlights the opportunity to derive value from intense, high purity waste carbon dioxide streams by the application of plasma arc reforming. It also identifies the areas technology developers should focus on to bring the technology to commercially readiness