What Is Synthesis Gas?

Jo Dunaway
Jo Dunaway
Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

Synthesis gas, also called syngas, is a term for gas products developed from synthesizing amounts of hydrogen and carbon monoxide by several production methods. Some of the methods used to produce synthesis gas are gasification of coal, steam reforming of natural gas, waste-to-energy reformation, and biomass production. Synthesis gas is also an intermediate byproduct developed during the processing of ammonia, methanol, synthetic petroleum, or synthetic natural gas. Synthesis gas can be used as either a lubricant or a fuel.

Syngas is often used to create steam and electricity, and as a chemical ingredient in petrochemical refining enterprises. Petroleum byproducts that might otherwise become waste can be conserved as a feedstock for its production. These materials interact under pressure and extremely elevated temperatures in a reactor to produce the synthesis gas. During the gasification refining process, any material containing carbon can be converted. The most commonly used method of producing synthesis gas is through biomass production. Biomass plants can use sewage sludge, demolition wood, waste refuse, and shredded tires, among other things, as feedstock for reactors.

There are many types of gasification reactors using various methods to turn feedstock into the components of synthesis gas. Essentially, extremely high temperatures, as high as 2,280° F (1248.89° C), are applied to the feedstock. These high temperatures melt and solidify the materials into glass or cracked tar aggregate. This aggregate is then fed into a gasifier, which melts it to a liquid base as synthetic gas or into gaseous form, depending on its ultimate use.

Syngas fermentation is a process for making other fuels and chemical products. In fermentation, microbes are added to hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. The microorgranisms convert them carbon and energy sources. These carbon and energy sources are in turn used to create acetic acids, butyric acids, butanol, ethanol, and methane. Since syngas fermentation requires lower temperatures and pressures than other chemical processes and requires less specificity as to the mixtures of carbon dioxide to hydrogen, it is easy to produce.

The demand for synthesis gas has increased due to several supply and demand factors. Many of the feedstock materials have higher concentrations of sulfur and nitrogen that need to be purified out, which has added extra steps to the refining process. Additionally, oil sands and heavier feedstocks need higher temperatures for separation. Most countries around the world have made their environmental regulations stricter, so synthesis gas production faces tougher strictures in production.

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      Scientist with beakers