CoorsTek Ceramic Membrane Enables Conversion of Natural Gas to Liquid
Researchers have developed a new process to use natural gas as a raw material for aromatic chemicals.
CoorsTek recently announced that a team of scientists from CoorsTek Membrane Sciences, the University of Oslo, and the Instituto de Tecnología Química (Spain) has developed a new process to use natural gas as a raw material for aromatic chemicals. The process uses a novel ceramic membrane to make the direct, non-oxidative conversion of gas to liquids possible for the first time, which reduces cost, eliminates multiple process steps, and avoids any carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The resulting aromatic precursors are source chemicals for insulation materials, plastics, textiles, and jet fuel, among other products. Direct activation of methane, the main component of biogas and natural gas, has been a key goal of the hydrocarbon research community for decades. This new process is detailed in the August edition of Science.
“Consider the scale of the oil, gas, and petrochemicals industry today,” said Jose Serra, Ph.D., professor at Instituto de Tecnología Química. “With new ceramic membrane reactors to make fuels and chemicals from natural gas instead of crude oil, the whole hydrocarbon value chain can become significantly less expensive, cleaner, and leaner. By using a ceramic membrane that simultaneously removes hydrogen and injects oxygen, we have been able to make liquid hydrocarbons directly from methane in a one-step process. As a bonus, the process also generates a high-purity hydrogen stream as a byproduct.”
Methane constitutes a large fraction of the world’s hydrocarbon resource, but much of this resource is stranded without economically viable paths to market. Even when available for industrial conversions, the high stability of the methane molecule leads to energy losses associated with multi-stage processing in large chemical plants. Integrating a ceramic ion-conducting membrane into the reactor enables an increase in the productivity of industrially appealing processes that are otherwise impractical due to strong thermodynamic constraints.
“With high-volume manufacturing, we can make membrane reactors from active ceramics that are cost competitive with conventional catalytic reactors for gas processing,” said Per Vestre, managing director at CoorsTek Membrane Sciences. “While the reactor costs will be similar, the results enabled by this new process have the potential to significantly improve both the financial and environmental costs of chemical production.”