Making Fischer-Tropsch fuels and electricity from coal and biomass: Performance and cost analysis

Guangjian Liu, Eric D. Larson, Robert H. Williams, Thomas G. Kreutz, Xiangbo Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Scopus citations


Major challenges posed by crude-oil-derived transportation fuels are high current and prospective oil prices, insecurity of liquid fuel supplies, and climate change risks from the accumulation of fossil fuel CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. One option for addressing these challenges simultaneously involves producing ultraclean synthetic fuels from coal and lignocellulosic biomass with CO2 capture and storage. Detailed process simulations, lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions analyses, and cost analyses carried out in a comprehensive analytical framework are presented for 16 alternative system configurations that involve gasification-based coproduction of Fischer-Tropsch liquid (FTL) fuels and electricity from coal and/or biomass, with and without capture and storage of byproduct CO 2. Systematic comparisons are made to cellulosic ethanol as an alternative low GHG-emitting liquid fuel and to alternative options for decarbonizing stand-alone fossil-fuel power plants. The analysis indicates that FTL fuels are typically less costly to produce when electricity is generated as a major coproduct than when producing mainly liquid fuel. Coproduction systems that utilize a cofeed of biomass and coal and incorporate CO2 capture and storage in the design offer attractive opportunities for decarbonizing liquid fuels and power generation simultaneously. Such coproduction systems considered as power generators can provide decarbonized electricity at lower costs than is feasible with stand-alone fossil-fuel power plant options under a wide range of conditions. At a plausible GHG emissions price under a future U.S. carbon mitigation policy ($50/t CO2eq), such a coproduction system built at a scale suitable for competing as a power generator would be able to provide low-GHG-emitting synthetic fuels at the same estimated unit cost as for coal synfuels characterized by ten times the GHG gas emission rate that are produced in a plant with CO2 capture and storage that does not provide electricity as a major coproduct having three times the synfuel output capacity and requiring twice the total capital investment. Moreover, the low GHG-emitting synfuels produced by such systems would be less costly to produce than cellulosic ethanol and require only half as much lignocellulosic biomass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-437
Number of pages23
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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