Technical Brief

Practical Experience With a Mobile Methanol Synthesis Device

[+] Author and Article Information
Eric R. Morgan

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Northern Arizona University,
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
e-mail: Eric.Morgan@nau.edu

Thomas L. Acker

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Northern Arizona University,
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
e-mail: Tom.Acker@nau.edu

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Solar Energy Division of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF SOLAR ENERGY ENGINEERING: INCLUDING WIND ENERGY AND BUILDING ENERGY CONSERVATION. Manuscript received December 8, 2014; final manuscript received August 5, 2015; published online October 15, 2015. Assoc. Editor: Wojciech Lipinski.

J. Sol. Energy Eng 137(6), 064506 (Oct 15, 2015) (10 pages) Paper No: SOL-14-1369; doi: 10.1115/1.4031513 History: Received December 08, 2014; Revised August 05, 2015

A methanol synthesis unit (MSU) that directly converts carbon dioxide and hydrogen into methanol and water was developed and tested. The MSU consists of: a high-pressure side that includes a compressor, a reactor, and a throttling valve; and a low-pressure side that includes a knockout drum, and a mixer where fresh gas enters the system. Methanol and water are produced at high pressure in the reactor and then exit the system under low pressure and temperature in the knockout drum. The remaining, unreacted recycle gas that leaves the knockout drum is mixed with fresh synthesis gas before being sent back through the synthesis loop. The unit operates entirely on electricity and includes a high-pressure electrolyzer to obtain gaseous hydrogen and oxygen directly from purified water. Thus, the sole inputs to the trailer are water, carbon dioxide, and electricity, while the sole outputs are methanol, oxygen, and water. A distillation unit separates the methanol and water mixture on site so that the synthesized water can be reused in the electrolyzer. Here, we describe and characterize the operation of the MSU and offer some possible design improvements for future iterations of the device, based on experience.

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Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

Energy densities of common fuels [4446]

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 2

The fully assembled mobile MSU at NAU. Numbers correspond to major pieces of equipment: (1) Electrolyzer; (2) bottled synthesis gases; (3) low pressure buffer; (4) compressor; (5) high-pressure buffer; (6) methanol reactor/heating elements; (7) throttle valve; (8) condenser; (9) knockout drum; (10) distillation column; and (11) fuse box. High pressure (≈100 bar) operation (5,6); low pressure (≈30 bar) operation (1, 3, 8, 9); gradients represent transitional pressure operation in the direction of the gradient.

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 3

A process flow diagram of the NAU reactor

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 4

Reactor flow profile as simulated in the COCO model

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 5

Bubble plot of reactor outputs for 23 one-hour trial runs

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 6

Steady-state operating characteristics of the MSU from the northern Arizona field test site




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