New ceramic membrane allows first direct conversion of natural gas to liquids

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Researchers from CoorsTek Membrane Sciences in collaboration with University of Oslo (Norway), and the Institute de Tecnología Química (Spain) have developed a new process to use natural gas as a raw material for aromatic chemicals. This process includes a ceramic membrane that directly converts natural gas to liquids. The process removes carbon dioxide emissions as well as reduces additional methods. The resulting aromatic precursors are source chemicals for insulation materials, plastics, textiles, and jet fuel, among other valuable products.

The important constituent of biogas and natural gas i.e., activation of methane has been a main goal of the hydrocarbon research community for decades. This new research includes conversion of methane to aromatics in a catalytic co-ionic membrane reactor.

Dr. Jose Serra, Professor with Instituto de Tecnología Química (ITQ) in Valencia, Spain, said,”Consider the scale of the oil, gas, and petrochemicals industry today. With new ceramic membrane reactors, we can make fuels and chemicals from natural gas. And it will be inexpensive, cleaner, and leaner as compared to crude oil, the whole hydrocarbon value chain.”

The Ceramic membrane made up of heavy materials like barium and zirconium with thin electrocatalytic layers of plentiful metals like nickel and copper. Generally, barium and Zirconium found within large sand deposits. Ceramic membrane continuously eliminates hydrogen and injected oxygen. Through this, scientists are able to make liquid hydrocarbon directly from methane in a single-step process. Additionally, highly purified hydrogen stream also generated.

At the other hand, Scientists make membrane reactors from active ceramics by high-volume manufacturing. This is cost competitive with typical catalytic reactors for gas processing.

Professor Serra, “It is really very simple, abundant gas in and valuable liquid out through a clean, inexpensive process at small scale. Although, at nanochemistry level, molecules communicate with catalyst and membrane at a temperature around 700 °C. There were many factors to proceed and control in order to render. But just the specific valuable molecules needed to make the new process work.

Methane creates a large portion of the world’s hydrocarbon resource. But the maximum resource abandoned without economically viable paths to market. The high stability of methane molecule causes energy losses related to multiprocessing in large chemical plants. They use oxygen and steam to activate the methane in which known as synthesis gas processing.

Engineers can work with temperature and pressure to monitor reactions. Without helping reactions across their chemical equilibrium limit, Catalysts can improve speed and selectivity. By combining a ceramic ion-conducting membrane with reactor allows maximum productivity of industrially appealing processes.

Per Vestre, Managing Director at CoorsTek Membrane Sciences said, “The results enabled by this new process have the potential to essentially improve both the economical and environmental costs of chemical production, a development CoorsTek believes will make the world measurably better.”