The Bixby Process is a radical method of extracting energy from any carbon-based material, including coal, that produces high quality natural gas and semi-activated carbon while significantly reducing the heavy carbon and other harmful emissions normally associated with this fossil fuel. Rather than being a “direct-to-energy” production technology, it is instead a conversion to energy process. The Bixby Process is revolutionary in that it is a coal-heating rather than a coal-burning technology and as a result produces dramatically reduced carbon dioxide emissions as compared to other existing coal-to-gas technologies, uses no water in the process; and is inexpensive to produce.
What is also unique about this technology is that it has the potential capability to perform this process with all carbon-based material, including biomass, wood waste, municipal solid waste, sewage, plastic, hazardous waste and rubber tires, to name a few.
For the purpose of simplifying a very sophisticated process, let’s imagine placing a lump of coal inside a large glass bottle, drawing the oxygen out of the bottle and replacing it with natural gas, sealing the bottle shut and heating it to a temperature exceeding 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the coal is contained in an all gas, no oxygen environment very little energy is used to produce this unusually high value gas. Since there is no burning involved, the Bixby Process converts what is generally considered to be a very dirty energy source to a very clean one.
When the coal, or other carbon-based material inside the vessel reactor, reaches a certain temperature, its volatile matter wants to change — but without oxygen it cannot burn. So in less than a fraction of a second the volatile matter changes (devolitizes) from its solid state into a gaseous state. The non-volatile matter remains solid. The coal has now become two separate materials: synthetic gas and semi-activated carbon.
- A very high quality synthetic gas is produced
- No NOx or SOx emissions are released
- Polluting by-products, such as arsenic, sulfur and mercury are not released from the solid matter and remain within the semi-activated carbon
- No carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide is created
- The resulting gas can now be compressed and sent to a power plant where it will burn up to 65 percent cleaner than the coal it was made from.
- No water is consumed in the process, which is a real drawback of traditional coal-fired power plants
- It requires very little energy, and because power plants can now use gas turbines instead of massive coal-fired boilers, the cost of building power plants can be reduced by more than half
- Reducing emissions by up to 65 percent means that the goal of reducing carbon emissions overall by 50 percent by 2050 could actually be met today
Depending on the type of coal used, somewhere between 30 to 50 percent of the coal actually converts to syngas during devolitization. The remaining solid matter in now activated carbon solids, for which there are many uses. One very attractive alternative is to combine it with hydrogen using a special reactor to make oil. That is what we describe as the liquefaction phase of the Bixby Process.
During this process, any pollutants that remained with the activated carbon (i.e., arsenic, sulfur, mercury, etc.) can be culled out using a variety of methods. One method would be to vitrify the material into an inert slag material using a plasma arc.
Liquefaction reactor technology is not new, however, Bixby’s unique (Patent Pending) process is capable of making hydrogen very inexpensively from many cellulosic materials including biomass and municipal solid waste, etc. This gas is then processed using standard refining techniques to produce a super light sweet crude oil from which high cetane diesel or jet fuel or gasoline can be made. The Bixby Process (the devolitization and liquefaction phases combined) are potentially able to extract more than 80 percent of the usable energy found in coal.
If we were to retrofit every coal-fired power plant in the United States (approximately 300,000 megawatts of power and 51 percent of the electrical grid) and run the carbon through the liquefaction phase of the Bixby Process, we would both reduce the man-made carbon emissions up to 60 percent and produce an amount of oil equivalent to twice what we currently import from foreign sources today (which is also equal to four times what we import from OPEC nations alone).