Electrical Production of Gasoline

Electrical Experimenter (April 1918), Vol. 5, # 12, p. 822

The Electrical Production of Synthetic Gasoline

The world needs gasoline --- thousands of internal combustion engines are daily consuming untold gallons of the valuable fuel and have sent the price skyward at a rate that would give the average motorist heart failure. And just at the time that the situation promised to become acute an inventor comes forward with an electrical method of producing ir from kerosene, solar oil and low-grade distillates.

Briefly the process is as follows: Take some kerosene, vaporize it, mix in a little natural gas and shoot a bolt of electricity through it. Wash it with acid, soda ash and water, then distill and you have pure, water white gasoline that will clean kid gloves or drive a motor car. Simple, isn’t it?

But it took two years of experimental work to bring the process to its present practical condition. One of the illustrations herewith show Mr Louis B Cheery, the inventor of the process, and the first plant that proved his ideas practical.

In order to understand the working of the Cherry process for producing gasoline it would not be out of place to describe briefly the usual process of distillation of crude oil. Then a better idea will be gained of how the new process can be readily adopted to the present refineries.

The oil as it comes from the well is black in color, having a disagreeable odor and quite thick. In this form it is known as crude oil and, depending on the part of the country from which it comes, will have very little gasoline, or possibly as high as 15 to 30 percent of gasoline, in it.

The oil is pumped into a large still which may hold from 5 to 1500 barrels. This still is usually of cylindrical form and is mounted on brickwork similar to a horizontal steam boiler. Fire is placed under the still and the temperature of the oil gradually raised. When it reaches a temperature of 90 to 100 degrees F, gases will pass over into a condenser which consists of a large coiled pipe immersed in a tank of water. These vapors condense and thus is obtained high-proof gasoline or petroleum ether.

The temperature is further raised until all the gasoline vapor passes over. The end point or the maximum temperature at which gases are allowed to pass over is 400 F. This fraction or cut is known as crude benzene by the refiners and is then treated with sulfuric acid, soda ash, washed with water and redistilled. This results in commercial gasoline used for motor cars.

The above process takes out all the gasoline, further heating causes kerosene, solar oil and heavy lubricating oils to pass over and condense in turn. This operation is known as fractional distillation, the residue remaining in the still after a high temperature is reached being coal tar, which is the source of our dyes and other products.

Now turning to the Cherry process. It is a well-k known fact that all crude oil products from gasoline to paraffin wax are hydrocarbons --- that is, they consist of varying mixtures of hydrogen and carbon. It is apparent that were some means found for controlling the relative proportions of the hydrogen and carbon it would be possible to produce any of the various products at will; that is, obtain all paraffin or all gasoline, as desired. By studying the constituents of the various hydrocarbons, Mr Cherry noted that if natural gas could be combined chemically in proper proportions with the various distillates, he would then have gasoline. Acting on this he discovered that a high-tension electric current would affect the necessary reaction and produce gasoline.

In practice, the still used is similar to that employed in refining crude oil, but has a perforated pipe at the bottom. The kerosene or other low-grade oil is placed in this still and while being heated natural gas is forced into the perforated pipe and escaping up through the liquid is heated to the same temperature and thoroughly mixed with the oil vapor. This vapor then passes into a series of electrically heated pipes that have a central electrode, this electrode as well as the pipes being connected to a source of high-tension current [100,000 V ] of extremely high frequency.

The gases are subjected to this silent discharge as they flow though the pipes and their chemical structure is so altered that the resulting condensate is a crude benzene. For the proper results it is necessary that the temperature of the gases, their rate of flow, as well as the voltage and frequency of the current be properly adjusted. On treated the benzene so obtained a liquid results that cannot be detected from gasoline --- in fact, it is gasoline!

To produce 60,000 gallons of gasoline by the above process daily, an electrical equipment rated at 75 KW is required. The illustrations give a good idea of the apparatus employed in a plant of the above size. The general view of the high-tension gallery shows the transformer in the background, with the condenser used in the closed oscillator circuit at the left. Another illustration shows the rotary spark gap having two large rotating disks fitted with plugs to obtain a high rate of discharge through the closed circuit, the primary of the oscillatory transformer being shown at the left.

The treating chambers are shown in another illustration in which the mixed vapors are treated. The large porcelain insulators can be clearly seen that insulate the central electrodes. The pipes are also wound with electric heating coiuls to obtain the proper temperature.

The entire operation taking place at atmospheric pressure, it is a simple matter to fit the ordinary crude oil still with the necessary treating chambers and electrical equipment. Tests tend to prove that the cost of treating one gallon of kerosene does not exceed one cent, while the value of the process will be better appreciated when it is stated that it is practical to convert nearly all the volatile oils into gasoline without undue precipitation of carbon or the production of fixed gases.

At a recent test it was possible to change 76.68 per cent of the kerosene used into pure gasoline, but the plant under construction is expected to raise the percentage to 98 or 100. Mr Cherry has offered to furnish the government all the gasoline it requires for a flat rate of 10 cents per gallon, and to say the least this offer has caused quite a commotion among those interested in gasoline production.

Is this but another step along the road to the production of gold from the baser metals? According to the more recent theories of the electrical nature of matter it should be possible to affect such a change by electrical means. Al matter being made up of electrical charges, it merely remains for some one to find a way of controlling the grouping of these charges and they can instantly produce anything from the material at hand.

The kerosene vapor with which has been mixed natural gas, enters at A and passes into pipe B. The latter is of iron covered with a layer of electrical insulation, such as mica, shown at F, over which is wound the resistance wires G, for heating the chamber. These wires are in turn covered by a thick layer of heat insulating material to retain the heat and keep the temperature constant.

The electrode D is mounted centrally in the chamber, being supported and insulate by the porcelain E. At J is shown the terminals of the heating winding.

The sectional view also shows the wiring to produce the high tension high frequency currents required to treat the vapors. AN alternating current supply is connected to the primary of the step-up transformer T, through a choke coil CC. A condenser C is shunted across the secondary of the transformer, while a rotary spark gap R serves to discharge the condenser periodically through the primary of the oscillation transformer OT. In this manner high frequency currents are induced in the secondary of the oscillation transformer, which flow to the rods D, connection beig made from the other terminal to the pipes as shown at I.

The heating coils are connected to the current supply through an adjustable resistance not shown in the drawing.


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