Microwave Process Transforms Hard-To-Reach Natural Gas into Salable Products

Dec 26th, 2017

Joint efforts of National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), West Virginia University (WVU), Shell and Pitt enabled to create chemical reactions using microwaves. An innovative method makes it possible to transform natural gas (NG) into CH4 and natural gas liquids.

The researchers relied on the microwave chemistry with the purpose to boost production and make the process of hydrocarbon fuels conversion into marketable products time and cost-efficient.

The method of microwave catalysis allows producing chemicals from gas, oil and coal resources that are economically and physically stranded. That means the shale gas or oil flaring which once were hard-to-reach can be converted in situ. The value-added liquid materials produced in so doing will reduce the demand for raw crude in the U.S. by 20%.

Basing on the early findings, a collaborative team is going to continue the research in January 2018 funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Existing methods of indirect gas conversion to chemical products are capital-intensive and energy-consuming as opposed to microwave catalysis which also can ensure higher product output.

Along with on-site NG conversion, the microwave method can be applied in large contemporary gas-conversion facilities. That will eliminate some production operations yielding the same results.

NETL’s specialists will assist the WVU’s team in the new method implementation and the scale-up of the microwave reactor.  The testing proved the projected results showing that the energy productivity can be improved by 63% and the capital expenditures can be reduced by over 50%.

Extensive microwave catalysis for fossil fuels upgrading is a considerable breakthrough for the producers willing to manufacture marketable chemicals. However, it is a starting point for further R&D in the area of plasma energetics.    NETL and WVU have already received funds to study the potential of the microwave method in the production of ammonia.