Efficient Natural Gas-to-Methanol Conversion

Gas Technology Institute (GTI)
Methane to Methanol Fuel: A Low Temperature Process
Gas Technology Institute
ARPA-E Award: 
Des Plaines, IL
Project Term: 
01/01/2013 to 03/15/2014
Project Status: 
Critical Need: 
The U.S. is in urgent need of alternatives to petroleum-based transportation. With gas prices routinely above $4 per gallon, and numerous known petroleum reserves held in geopolitically unstable regions, there is a need for investment in cost-effective alternative fuel sources, such as natural gas. These cost efficiencies can be difficult to achieve, as many of our natural gas reserves are in geographically isolated areas. Developing small-scale gas-to-liquid reactors that can be deployed in remote locations and produce cost-effective natural gas would go a long way toward replacing gasoline as our base transport fuel.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
GTI is developing a new process to convert natural gas or methane-containing gas into methanol and hydrogen for liquid fuel. Methanol serves as the main feedstock for dimethyl ether, which could be used for vehicular fuel. Unfortunately, current methods to produce liquid fuels from natural gas require large and expensive facilities that use significant amounts of energy. GTI's process uses metal oxide catalysts that are continuously regenerated in a reactor, similar to a battery, to convert the methane into methanol. These metal oxide catalysts reduce the energy required during the conversion process. This process operates at room temperature, is more energy efficient, and less capital-intensive than existing methods.
Impact Summary: 
If successful, GTI's low-temperature methane-to-methanol process would reduce the price of methanol from $2.80 to $0.24 per gallon.
Increasing the utility of geographically isolated natural gas reserves would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil--the transportation sector is the dominant source of this dependence.
Trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are burned off, or "flared," during petroleum exploration and refinery. Other methane containing resources, such as landfill gas, are not all collected and used. Reactors that capture and convert methane into liquid fuel would result in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the petroleum industry and other methane emission sources.
Widespread use of natural gas as transportation fuel would decrease our foreign oil imports, allowing us to keep more dollars at home.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. John Lemmon
Project Contact: 
Dr. Chinbay Q. Fan