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Compact Inexpensive Reformers for Natural Gas

Research Triangle Institute (RTI)
ARPA-E Award: 
Research Triangle Park, NC
Project Term: 
03/15/2013 to 06/30/2017
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
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: 
Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is leveraging existing engine technology to develop a compact reformer for natural gas conversion. Reformers produce synthesis gas--the first step in the commercial process of converting natural gas to liquid fuels. As a major component of any gas-to-liquid plant, the reformer represents a substantial cost. RTI's re-designed reformer would be compact, inexpensive, and easily integrated with small-scale chemical reactors. RTI's technology allows for significant cost savings by harnessing equipment that is already manufactured and readily available. Unlike other systems that are too large to be deployed remotely, RTI's reformer could be used for small, remote sources of gas.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, RTI's compact natural gas reformer would enable micro gas-to-liquid plants capable of economically producing 5,000 gallons of equivalent liquid fuels per day.
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 refinery. Reactors that capture and convert natural gas into fuel would result in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the refinery industry.
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. Christopher Atkinson
Project Contact: 
Dr. John Carpenter
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Release Date: