Technology Forum: Petro/Biofuels

May 27, 2009

E-Separation Solutions

E-Separation Solutions-05-28-2009, Volume 0, Issue 0

Joining us for this discussion are Dr. Peter Hoedl of PerkinElmer EcoAnalytix; Daniela Cavagnino from Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc.; Sky Countryman of Phenomenex; and Mark Taylor and Rick Koeritz of Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, Inc.

With the summer driving season upon us, the topic of petroleum and biofuels research is beginning to receive more attention in the media once again. Whether the solution is increased drilling or the development of alternative fuel sources, the outcome for the chromatography community is the same: a rapid growth in research and development.

Joining us for this discussion are Dr. Peter Hoedl of PerkinElmer EcoAnalytix; Daniela Cavagnino from Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc.; Sky Countryman of Phenomenex; and Mark Taylor and Rick Koeritz of Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, Inc.

Describe the importance/effect of fast and accurate fuel analysis. Is high throughput a major requirement in fuel analysis?

Hoedl:The fuel landscape is a highly-regulated area and the accuracy of any fuel-related analysis is critical.For example, the regulations for aviation fuels are very strict and all of the requirements must be fulfilled throughout the world or global air travel and other transportation sources would be impossible. In my opinion, the accuracy of results is more important than the speed of the analysis. However, in today’s busy world, everybody is looking to increase efficiency, so speed is always a critical point of discussion.

As mentioned above, certain requirements are more important, especially if they directly affect the accuracy and security of results. Otherwise, if it is possible to perform a certain analysis twice, because of the speed of instruments (fast GC-oven heat and cooling times, higher throughput, etc.), these multiple analyses can also be a benefit for producers and consumers. My company has focused on increasing the speed and accuracy of certain applications and methods for fuel analysis.

Cavagnino: Fuel analysis is important and required for different purposes: one of the first needs for marketers and distributors is to monitor fuel quality to confirm the manufacturer’s specification which should ensure a safe and high performance engine operation. In this respect, risk of contamination may arise during manufacture, transportation, and storage (for example, the multi-product pipelines and the potential issue for cross contamination), making the analytical test a fundamental step. This quality check is often required with a real-time response, having bulk delivery ready for shipment or flights waiting for authorization. A fast analytical response is also desirable in the refinery industry for fast monitoring of refinery processes. As an example, there is a strong requirement for UltraFast GC technology applied to the SimDist analysis. If on one side, a high sample throughput is a general clear demand to increase productivity, on the other side, a real-time response is often required despite the number of samples.

Countryman: There are several steps in the manufacturing of biofuels where labs need information in order to make real-time decisions about the process. For instance, in the manufacturing of bioethanol, plants need a way to monitor their fermentation process during several key steps. The first is the classification of the incoming feed stock to determine the quality. Lab-based measurements are usually too slow, so a lot of work is being done to develop new testing procedures that are accurate and faster.

After the plants begin the fermentation process, they need to measure the conversion of starches to sugars. When fermentation begins, they must then monitor the process to ensure there is no bacterial contamination. The faster plants can determine problems with either of these steps, the sooner they can make adjustments to maximize their yield.

The final QC procedure for bioethanol uses GC to determine the ratios of ethanol, methanol, and denaturant. Shipments of bioethanol are required to travel with a QC testing document reporting on samples taken directly from the outgoing fuel. Because the standard protocols can take more than 40 min, the trucks generally head out without the document and testing results are faxed ahead to the destination, which is far from ideal.

Taylor and Koeritz: As biofuels research advances there will be a need for more accurate and precise analysis of the feedstock used to produce biofuels. Most of the promising work being done is with cellulosic materials as beginning feedstocks. These possible sources are typically available in large quantities and do not burden the human food supply. Such sources will require characterization in order to determine their viability as good starting materials. These characterizations are typically performed using GC, GC–MS, LC, LC–MS and NMR. Currently, high throughput of these analyses is not a requirement. However, accuracy in determining structures and formulas of compounds in the samples is extremely important.

How will new gas and oil regulations affect GC instrumentation/column manufacturers?

Hoedl:The requirements described in the new regulations are more detailed and complicated than in the past as new compounds have been added and new limits have been set. As a result, new and advanced technologies must be added to existing instruments and applications.

Cavagnino:In general, the development of analytical instrumentation is driven by the customer’s needs, and therefore, GC and column manufacturers are strongly influenced by new directives and legislation which impact on the gas and oil industry. More stringent regulatory requirements, especially for safety and environmental issues, require more demanding technical specification of analytical instrumentation and higher performances in terms of sensitivity, accuracy, and reliability. One analytical challenge is, for example, the detection of lower and lower amounts of contaminants (for example sulfur contents in fuels), for which more inert GC systems with more sensitive and selective detectors have been developed. The increasing market trend towards renewable alternative fuels is generating new regulations and specifications for quality assessment and international trading, asking for suitable new analytical methods and hardware solutions.

Countryman:New regulations will simply increase the demand for biofuels. As production capacity increases, there will be more need for better, faster, and cheaper testing methods. As manufacturers, we need to continue to develop specialized solutions for these plants that are fast, robust, and simple to implement.

Taylor and Koeritz:As more additives such as oxygenates are incorporated into a manufactured product, the need to analyze these new blends will increase. Producers will be asking their instrument vendors to respond by offering accurate and user-friendly software and instrumentation optimized to perform the new methodologies.

What does the future hold for biofuels/ biofuel analysis?

Hoedl:Biofuels fall within the same regulated landscape as regular fuels and all of the existing standards and regulations must be fulfilled. The transition from first generation biofuels and feedstocks to the evolution of second- and third-generation biofuels is an ongoing process and is still under development. Depending on the future processes and feedstocks identified for the next generation biofuels, there is room for new applications and methods in this industry.

Cavagnino:The statistics for global biofuel trends reported by the World Resources Institute state a biofuel production increase of 15% per year, with a double increase of production of ethanol in the U.S. by 2012, and a 10% increase of transportation fuel needs covered by biodiesel by 2020 in the European Community. Therefore, even if biofuels cannot be the only solution to the problems related to mineral fuels and still represent only a few percent of the global transportation fuel market, this growing market is posing new analytical challenges in order to comply with the emerging regulations. Biofuels producers are often not keen to use sophisticated analytical instrumentation and one important need for this market is to provide turn-key analyzers with dedicated method set up.

Countryman:The future of biofuels lies in cost-affective feed stocks that are readily available near the manufacturing plant. When it comes to some of the newer materials (cellulose, algae, etc), we are still in the process of figuring out the best way to optimize production. GC, HPLC, and sample preparation will be integral in biofuel production.

Taylor and Koeritz:With the ever-increasing demand for energy and the imminent shortages of fossil fuel, it is clear that research for energy derived from sustainable sources will be vital. We are seeing the funding, originating from public and private sectors, foster new programs such as the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a joint venture from the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State. New research programs are bringing together the researchers of various disciplines to solve the issues surrounding the efficient conversion of plentiful plant feedstock into useable fuel. These researchers will be dependent upon the tools and technology that analytical instrument vendors continue to develop in an effort to support their needs.