Credit: West Virginia University
A three-year collaborative project to develop a new low-cost process to convert the natural gas that is commonly flared at industrial sites could benefit a number of industrial sectors including the carbon fiber industry, carbon composite, electronics, electrical arc steel making, polymer additives and many others, all while having a positive effect on the economy and environment.
A $3 million cooperative agreement awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy to West Virginia University engineers John Hu and Xingbo Liu at the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, aims to mitigate the emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by natural gas flaring and harness the gas into high-value solid carbon and hydrogen for fuel.
Gas flaring is practiced in a variety of different scenarios: when gas is considered uneconomical to collect and sell, for safety and emergency purposes, and for maintenance and testing purposes. If there is no infrastructure to readily transport the gas, it is simply burned off.
The project plans to use a microwave-enhanced system to convert natural gas to carbon nanomaterials and hydrogen under lower temperatures for increased energy efficiency.
According to Hu, the modular process involves the development of a modular unit — a small, but more efficient plant — which is transportable and can be deployed directly at the wellsite.
Traditionally, facilities are constructed at the extraction site. The on-site construction process takes longer and can be expensive. In contrast, modular production units are constructed at an off-site fabrication facility, offering many benefits over field construction, as it increases efficiency, safety, quality, convenience and reduces costs.
“At the wellhead, building a large chemical plant is not economical and often times not possible,” Hu said. “A modular unit can be manufactured at a factory, then transported directly to a well pad. Once the gas well is depleted, the processing unit can be transported to another well pad.”
WVU, in collaboration with NC State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, H-Quest, industrial partners SoCalGas, and C4-MCP, is developing the new technology to advance science and engineering to solve the challenges facing the shale gas industry.
“Abundant shale gas in the Appalachian basin and other areas not only helps the U.S. to achieve the energy independence, it is also a bridging fuel toward renewable energy,” said Liu, interim associate dean for research in the Statler College.