Methane is the primary component of natural gas, which is abundant in the United States and widely available for heating and electricity generation through a well-developed distribution network throughout the country. However, there are many resources, such as stranded natural gas and biogas from agriculture or landfills, that are not connected to this distribution network because they are small and remote, and the recovery and transportation of these resources is uneconomical. Known processes to convert methane into liquid fuels or other useful chemicals, which would make transportation more practical, are energy-intensive and only economical at a very large scale, and thus not compatible with small distributed resources. New processes are needed to transform methane into liquid fuels and other useful chemicals in order to exploit distributed resources.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
The team led by Oregon State University (OSU) is developing a novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology that utilizes a “corona discharge” plasma to convert methane to higher value chemicals, such as ethylene or liquid fuels. A corona discharge is formed when a high voltage is applied across a gap with a shaped electrode that concentrates the electric field at a tip. At sufficiently high voltage, an electrical discharge (characterized by a faint glow - a corona) is formed, and ionizes the surrounding gas molecules, i.e. split them into positive ions and free electrons. The team will build a reactor consisting of an array of micro-structured conducting surfaces to form corona discharges that ionize methane molecules and recombine the ionized components to form longer chain hydrocarbons with higher value. The key advantages of this technology are the innovative reactor design, which will allow small-scale production, as well as the high energy and conversion efficiencies, resulting in less energy being consumed to convert methane to liquid fuels.
If successful, the GTL technology developed by OSU could provide an alternative to petroleum-based fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from otherwise underutilized biogas.
The liquid fuels produced by OSU’s GTL process would open new opportunities to better use domestic biogas.
If applied to landfill biogas and other waste-streams of methane, OSU’s GTL process could prevent millions of tons of harmful greenhouse gas emissions annually.
By creating a larger domestic infrastructure for ethylene production, the U.S. could maintain its global lead and secure more jobs in for example, the U.S. plastics industry by keeping feedstock costs low.