Celebrated at the recent IChemE Awards, JM’s collaboration with BP is working towards commercialising Fischer Tropsch (FT) based technology to make a lasting positive environmental impact.

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Engineers to the rescue

According to Andrew Coe, Technology Manager, Johnson Matthey, chemical engineers are responsible for solving some of the world's biggest problems such as enabling cleaner air and the more efficient use of natural resources.

It has never been more critical to develop and use renewable and sustainable sources of energy. Global investment in this area currently stands at around $241.6 billion, double the amount invested in fossil fuels plants. Trending policy changes demonstrate this shift; Europe, who leads long-term renewable targets, committed to consuming a minimum of 27% renewable energy by 2030.

CAN-do attitude

Andrew and his research team, which incorporates 18 JM and BP specialist engineers and chemists across 4 UK sites, are on the cusp of commercialising their FT based technology which produces synthetic crude oil from renewable sources such as biomass, municipal solid waste and flared associated natural gas – a result of nearly seven years of development. Synthetic crude oil resulting from this method is already used today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What sets the team's work apart is their ability to scale up testing and process design, which optimises the use of small catalysts and 'CAN' reaction technology. Producing synthetic crude oil using this process has already proved to be more cost-effective than other similar FT technologies, reducing capital expenditure by 50%.

Scaling-up expertise

"JM brings process engineering expertise and the experience of being able to scale up catalyst testing in the laboratory to commercial scale, making a huge amount of catalysts in a commercial production facility," Andrew explains.

The big question is how this technology will impact our customers and ultimately the planet. Hopes are to clean up the aviation industry's bad reputation by producing so called 'Green Jet Fuel'. As the global demand for flights continues to grow, providing sustainable ways to fly could prove very lucrative.

Another potential area is to help big oil and gas companies export stranded natural gas or oil that's located too far away to transport via pipelines. "For a lot of the big companies it's no longer acceptable to pull oil out of the ground and flare off the gas, so in the future maybe there would be a drive towards using Fischer Tropsch to convert that natural gas into liquid fuels like diesel and jet fuels.

"I'm really proud to be part of a team that has won an award and excited that we're now really close to getting our commercial licence."