The Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor Technology, Cat-HTR
By Ignite Energy Resources, Dr Len Humphreys (CEO and co-founder) and Prof Thomas Maschmeyer (Co-founder)

IER has developed a proprietary lignite beneficiation process, the Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (or ‘Cat-HTR’) technology. This technology enables the chemical transformation of lignite (at high pressure and moderate temperature) into a high energy-density synthetic crude oil (or 'syncrude', 36 MJ/kg; 34,000 BTU/kg) and a high-grade (32 MJ/kg; 30,000 BTU/kg) micronised black coal. IER’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Licella, also uses a variation of this Cat-HTR technology to transform biomass into a high-grade ‘Bio Crude Oil’.


Over the past 3 years, IER has successfully tested this technology at its fully-operational Pilot Plant, located north of Sydney, on the New South Wales Central Coast, successfully converting an array of feedstocks including a large variety of brown coal (lignite) from around Australia and the world.

Results from this Pilot Plant have been used to produce a financial model by independent experts (University of Sydney, Department of Chemical Engineering), which shows that for every 1.3t of mined lignite (assuming 50% moisture) the process produces one barrel of syncrude and 0.34t of high-grade micronised black coal.

Based on the Pilot plant, IER developed and built its Commercial Demonstration Plant (CDP) which was officially opened the Federal Minister of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson. The CDP was partly funded by a Gen 2 biofuels grant awarded to us by the Commonwealth Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

RIGHT: Federal Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson and Member of Parliament, Deborah O’Neal − opening the CDP Cat-HTR in December 2011


The technology is based on a range of reactions that are induced by the hydrothermal reaction environment present (250 – 400 deg. C, 100 – 250 bar).

Two reaction cascades compete in the presence of water and catalysts (no external hydrogen is added):

1. Liquefaction reaction, including hydrolysis of C-O bonds and subsequent dehydrogenation/hydrogenation, dehydration, decarbonylation and decarboxylation to yield a high quality oil.

2. Coalification that accelerates the formation of black coal via the formation of extended aromatic systems mediated by catalysts, ionic and radical chemistry.

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The product is an ‘oily coal’ from which the oil can be easily removed by distillation or extraction. The remaining coal powder remains dry (1.6 wt%) upon exposure to air and is low in sulfur (0.1 wt%) and low in ash (2.6%).

About 90% of the original hydrogen and carbon are retained in the product. Depending on the feedstock and the amount of oil desired, from 1000 kg lignite (daf) approx. 196 kg CO2 is released, 250 kg liquids (oils and water solubles) are formed (distilled oils approx. 6 wt% O) and 550 kg upgraded (32 MJ/kg) black coal remains.

Overall about 20% of the chemical energy that resides in the coal is used for this transformation, as the reaction cascades are only very slightly (a few MJ/kg) endothermic overall.

For more information on IER's Cat-HTR Technology, go to the next page of this e-newsletter.

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