Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

The Key to the Next Energy Revolution?
ScienceNOW ^ | 13 March 2014 | Robert F. Service

Posted on 03/31/2014 12:26:07 PM PDT by neverdem

Transformer. A catalyst made with thallium (orange) readily converts methane (gray and white molecule) into liquid methanol, a starting point for producing commodity chemicals and fuels.

The Scripps Energy and Materials Center (SEMC)

Transformer. A catalyst made with thallium (orange) readily converts methane (gray and white molecule) into liquid methanol, a starting point for producing commodity chemicals and fuels.

Natural gas is great at heating our houses, but it’s not so good at fueling our cars—at least not yet. Researchers in the United States have discovered a new and more efficient method for converting the main components in natural gas into liquids that can be further refined into either common commodity chemicals or fuels. The work opens the door to displacing oil with abundant natural gas—and reducing both carbon emissions and society’s dependence on petroleum in the process.

Over the past several years, the United States and other countries have undergone an energy revolution as new drilling techniques and a process called hydraulic fracturing have made it possible to recover vast amounts of natural gas. Today, most of that gas is burned, either for heating homes or to drive electricity-generating turbines. But chemical companies have also long had the technology to convert the primary hydrocarbons in natural gas—methane, ethane, and propane—into alcohols, the liquid starting materials for plastics, fuels, and other commodities made by the train load. However, this technology has never been adopted on a wide scale, because it requires complex and expensive chemical plants that must run at temperatures greater than 800°C in order to carry out the transformation. Converting petroleum into those commodities has always been cheaper, which is why we’ve grown so dependent on oil.

Two decades ago, Roy Periana, a chemist at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, started looking for metal catalysts that could transform natural gas into alcohols at lower temperatures. He knew he needed to find metals that were deft at breaking the carbon-hydrogen bonds that are at the heart of methane, ethane, and propane, short hydrocarbons known as alkanes, and then add in oxygen atoms that would transform the alkanes into alcohols. But all the catalysts he discovered—including platinum, rhodium, and iridium—are rare and expensive, and the technique was never commercialized.

Periana says that what he didn’t appreciate at the time was that to be a good catalyst, the metals need to do another job in addition to transforming C-H bonds into C-O bonds. That’s because in a reactor, these catalysts are surrounded by solvent molecules. So before a metal can break an alkane’s bond, the alkane must first nudge a solvent molecule aside. It turns out that the expensive metals Periana was using aren’t so good at that part of the process: They require extra energy to push the solvent molecules out of their midst. Periana’s team realized that the different electronic structure of more abundant “main group” metals means that they wouldn’t have to pay this energetic price, and, therefore, might be able to carry out the C-H to C-O transformation more efficiently.

It worked better than he expected, Periana says. When he and his colleagues at Scripps and Brigham Young University ran a methane reaction with thallium—a main group metal—alkanes pushed the solvent molecules aside 22 orders of magnitude faster than when the reaction was run with iridium, reducing the overall energy required by about one-third, they report online today in Science. The success brought other benefits as well. The reaction runs at 180°C, and works on all alkanes at the same time, unlike the conventional natural gas conversion technology that works on only one species of alkane at a time. That could make it far easier, and thus potentially cheaper, to build chemical plants to convert natural gas to liquids using the new approach.

“This is a highly novel piece of work that opens the way to upgrading of natural gas to useful chemicals with simple materials and moderate conditions,” says Robert Crabtree, a chemist at Yale University. But that way is not entirely clear yet, Periana cautions. For now, the chemistry works one batch at a time. To succeed as an industrial technology, researchers must work out the conditions to get it to work on a continuous basis, he says. If they do, it may one day make it cheaper to derive commodity chemicals and fuels from natural gas than from petroleum. And that would be an energy revolution indeed.



TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: energy; methanol; naturalgas

1 posted on 03/31/2014 12:26:07 PM PDT by neverdem
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: El Gato; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Robert A. Cook, PE; lepton; LadyDoc; jb6; tiamat; PGalt; Dianna; ...
Preserving the Mary Rose

25 pharmaceutical companies will phase out animal antibiotics

Autism Diagnoses Surge by 30 Percent in Kids, CDC Reports

Gunshot victims to be suspended between life and death

FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.

2 posted on 03/31/2014 12:34:17 PM PDT by neverdem (Register pressure cookers! /s)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: neverdem

What happened to LENR?


3 posted on 03/31/2014 12:39:54 PM PDT by Georgia Girl 2 (The only purpose o f a pistol is to fight your way back to the rifle you should never have dropped.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: thackney

Ping.


4 posted on 03/31/2014 12:50:08 PM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: neverdem
While that sounds great, I think by 2050, the days of motor vehicles and trains using internal combustion engines fueled by petroleum products will be over.

Here's the reason why: the development of the liquid fluoride thorium reactor, a nuclear reactor that uses plentiful thorium-232 dissolved in molten fluoride salts as nuclear fuel in a liquid form. Extremely safe to run and with very little radioactive waste generation, LFTR's could be assembled on such a large scale that there will be enough excess power generated to do three things: 1) replace gasoline and diesel fueled internal combustion engines in automobiles with future electric batteries that allow for a single-charge range of 800 kilometers (497 miles), electrify all of our long distance railroad lines, and do truly large scale seawater desalinization to turn huge swaths of what was once desert into productive farmland.

5 posted on 03/31/2014 12:51:19 PM PDT by RayChuang88 (FairTax: America's economic cure)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: RayChuang88

Maybe the energy will be there. But progress in battery technology has been depressingly slow despite huge investments. The economy you describe does not exist without order of magnitude jumps in battery technology.


6 posted on 03/31/2014 1:25:16 PM PDT by ModelBreaker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: neverdem
In theory the liquid fuels can be distilled out of the mother liquors so that shouldn`t be a problem but Thallium is a pretty toxic, even deadly, heavy metal. Its as bad as mercury. They`d better be able to control the toxic compounds involved or this could turn ugly fast.
7 posted on 03/31/2014 1:34:30 PM PDT by nomad
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: RayChuang88

What about using that energy for cracking water for Hydrogen to use in fuel cells? They are making progress in that technology.


8 posted on 03/31/2014 1:36:12 PM PDT by nomad
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: ModelBreaker

Maybe the energy will be there. But progress in battery technology has been depressingly slow despite huge investments. The economy you describe does not exist without order of magnitude jumps in battery technology.
..................
The tesla car gets 250 miles on a charge. So just doubling that to 500 miles would mean that teslas get more on a charge than most gasoline cars get from a tank of gas.
............
Doubling is not an order of magnitude. An order of magnitude is 10 times higher.


9 posted on 03/31/2014 2:14:42 PM PDT by ckilmer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: nomad

What about using that energy for cracking water for Hydrogen to use in fuel cells? They are making progress in that technology.
.............
seems to me that I see an article in physorg every so often about at new water catalyst that cracks water better/faster/cheaper but I never hear of a follow up.


10 posted on 03/31/2014 2:16:33 PM PDT by ckilmer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: ModelBreaker

Hogwash..we have commercial quick charging in 20 minutes...just need them built up all over.


11 posted on 03/31/2014 2:19:13 PM PDT by fabian (" And a new day will dawn for those who stand long, and the forests will echo in laughter")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: neverdem
The work opens the door to displacing oil with abundant natural gas

Right. Natural gas will be abundant and cheap until everyone starts using it to power their truck fleets, electric power plants, etc.

Natural gas is great for heating homes and cooking food. Don't waste it on the other BS because it's "abundant". Mine coal, refine the thorium out of it to power LFTR reactors, and use some of the electricity to refine the remaining coal with the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Don't listen to the Watermelon Greenies about natural gas. IT'S A TRAP!

12 posted on 03/31/2014 2:53:59 PM PDT by kiryandil (turning Americans into felons, one obnoxious drunk at a time (Zero Tolerance!!!))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: RayChuang88

I think it would be more effective to generate hydrogen for motor vehicles.


13 posted on 03/31/2014 3:56:53 PM PDT by dirtboy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: nomad; ckilmer
What about using that energy for cracking water for Hydrogen to use in fuel cells? They are making progress in that technology.
I would consider a fuel cell fueled by hydrogen produced by electrolysis to be a form of battery in its own right.

14 posted on 03/31/2014 4:52:26 PM PDT by conservatism_IS_compassion ("Liberalism” is a conspiracy against the public by wire-service journalism.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: neverdem
"...liquid methanol...."

IS nasty stuff.

15 posted on 03/31/2014 7:44:48 PM PDT by Paladin2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ckilmer
"Doubling is not an order of magnitude."

Depends on your number system choice.

16 posted on 03/31/2014 7:46:11 PM PDT by Paladin2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Georgia Girl 2
"What happened to LENR?"

Nothing, it's just tough to pull off yet.

17 posted on 03/31/2014 7:47:24 PM PDT by Paladin2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: neverdem

Nuclear Energy: Cleaner, Safer and Made in America
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aoAf-wWies


18 posted on 04/05/2014 6:59:49 AM PDT by AdmSmith (GCTGATATGTCTATGATTACTCAT)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: RayChuang88
I'll believe the battery thing when it happens. Liquid fuels are excellent for storing large amounts of energy. Batteries can do that, but they tend to be even touchier than the liquid fuels.

But your reactor could power the process described, or other processes for converting natural gas to liquid fuel. For the trains, and lots of other things, electricity is great, if it's cheap enough. But "go where you want to go, when you want to go there" mobile power is probably not one of them, except in hybrid power trains which take much less battery capacity.

19 posted on 04/06/2014 5:22:05 PM PDT by El Gato ("The second amendment is the reset button of the US constitution"-Doug McKay)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: fabian
we have commercial quick charging in 20 minutes

Verses 2-3 minutes to fill up a completely empty tank? Maybe not a big deal, but a big irritant if one travels between cities much.

20 posted on 04/06/2014 5:24:56 PM PDT by El Gato ("The second amendment is the reset button of the US constitution"-Doug McKay)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: El Gato

Not when you compare a gas fill up at say, $50...and a full electric charge at a few dollars! Are you kidding? People like me are tired of being hosed at the pumps for whatever reason that the insiders trading barrel oil decide on any given day. It is insane. Just a few weeks ago, gas here in n. Ca. was a high $3.40. Now it is $3.80. Did their production costs go way up all of a sudden? Hell no. The insiders just decided they would take the world economies for more billions because of the world situations. Well, isn’t that convenient. If other necessities like clothing and food were under these thieves control like that, there would be revolution in the streets. What an utter rip off and the sooner we are out of that system, the better.


21 posted on 04/06/2014 7:13:37 PM PDT by fabian (" And a new day will dawn for those who stand long, and the forests will echo in laughter")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

To: El Gato
Once we start to commercially scale up the liquid fluoride thorium reactor, we could generate such a gigantic excess amount of electricity that suddenly, things that require a huge amount of electricity such as electrifying our rail lines, large scale seawater desalinization, and large-scale implementation of electric car chargers become economically viable. After all, at the beginning of the 20th Century our petroleum infrastructure was primarily for the distribution of kerosene for lamp fuel, but technological developments within 20 years made it possible to distribute gasoline for the fast-growing fleet of automobiles by 1920.
22 posted on 04/06/2014 7:31:28 PM PDT by RayChuang88 (FairTax: America's economic cure)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson