Oil & Gas, Research

Research Completed on Direct Conversion of Natural Gas

The EERC has recently completed several State Energy Research Center (SERC) projects that provide new insight and potential solutions for issues faced by energy industries in the state. One of these projects addressed the opportunity for increased utilization of the state’s abundant natural gas resource with the goal of identifying conversion technologies that directly—in a single step—convert natural gas or methane to liquid products that are more easily stored, transported, and marketed.

The dynamic nature of oil and gas production from shale resources and constrained natural gas gathering capacity in North Dakota has led to flaring of excess gas and decreased production. The conversion of natural gas to transportable and salable liquid products at the wellsite is an elusive but potentially game-changing way to address the challenge of stranded natural gas. And for this application, the fewer processing steps needed to convert gas to liquid, the safer and less expensive the process becomes.

A review of technical literature identified an extraordinary number of combinations of chemistries, catalysts and supports, processes, equipment, and products that have been studied for the direct conversion of methane (DCM). Few commercial successes have resulted because of methane’s limited reactivity. With the added challenge of small-scale conversion at wellsites and transportation costs to move product to market, it is clear that a transformational technological breakthrough is needed.

One exciting takeaway from this study is the application of DCM technology to produce methanol, which can be used to make fuel, solvents, and antifreeze. Additional technology development of catalysts, reactor design, or electrochemical conversion processes have the potential to achieve wellsite scale viability, and the EERC is pursuing opportunities to further explore technology development and demonstration.

“I’m grateful that SERC has given us the opportunity to study this topic and identify high-potential solutions, and I hope these new approaches will enable us to make even better use of the natural gas resource that North Dakota has in abundance,” said EERC Research Engineer Steve Schlasner.

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