The world crude oil demand is projected to rise to 108.5 million bbl/d by the year 2035. With reserves estimated at 869 billion tonnes worldwide, coal remains an abundant resource. The aim of this work was to produce a high value hydrocarbon liquid product using a Direct Coal Liquefaction (DCL) process at, relatively mild operating conditions. Via hydrogenation, the temperature-staged approach was investigated in a dual reactor lab-scale pilot plant facility. The objectives included maximising thermal dissolution of the coal in the presence of tetralin as the hydrogen donor solvent in the first stage with 2:1 and 3:1 solvent: coal ratios. Subsequently, in the second stage, hydrogen saturation, in particular, hydrodesulphurization (HDS) performance was assessed. Two commercial hydrotreating catalysts were investigated viz. NickelMolybdenum (Ni-Mo) and Cobalt-Molybdenum (Co-Mo). GC-MS results identified 77 compounds and various functional groups present in the first and second stage liquid product. In the first stage 3:1 ratios and liquid product yields catalysed by magnetite were favoured. The second stage product distribution showed an increase in the BTX (Benzene, Toluene, Xylene) quality of the liquid product, branched chain alkanes and a reduction in the sulphur concentration. As an HDS performer and selectivity to the production of long and branched chain alkanes, Ni-Mo had an improved performance over Co-Mo. Co-Mo is selective to a higher concentration of cyclohexane. For 16 days on stream each, Ni-Mo had a higher activity than Co-Mo. The potential to cover the demand for low–sulphur, crude diesel and solvents from the production of high value hydrocarbon liquid in the said process, is thus demonstrated.
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