Natural gas on the rise in the USDecember 27, 2012
Natural gas production is spiking in the US
Natural gas production is one the rise in the U.S. While natural gas is still considered a fossil-fuel, it burns much more cleanly than petroleum and coal, making it a suitable alternative to traditional energy systems, in terms of environmentally friendliness. The federal government has begun tapping into the country native natural gas reserves in order to better support the energy needs of its citizens. As the U.S. inches closer to becoming a major energy exporter through its increased production of natural gas, engineers and scientists from the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science believe that the time is right to begin focusing on methane.
Efficient use of methane to produce natural gas
Matthew Neurock, a chemical engineering professor with the University of Virginia, notes that petroleum reserves are declining all over the world. This decline is expected to open up a promising future for natural gas, especially as the U.S. begins to shift away from oil as its primary source of energy. Though petroleum may one day be replaced as a source of energy, it still has a wide range of uses, including the production of other fuels, such as natural gas. Methane is one of the primary components of natural gas, but there is currently not efficient way to make use of methane in the production of natural gas.
Researchers make use of “soft” catalytic materials
Neurock and his team have begun working with scientists from Northwestern University in order to make use of catalytic materials that can activate methane in an efficient manner, thereby producing ethylene. The team has focused its attentions of catalytic materials that contain sulfur, as research suggests that sulfur acts as a “soft” oxidant for the conversion of methane into ethylene. Oxygen had once been considered a viable option, but it proved much to reactive and would often over-oxidize methane into simple carbon dioxide.
Research team may be able to unlock a new way to efficiently produce natural gas
Neurock suggests that “soft” catalytic materials that have a weak affinity to hydrogen may be the solution to efficient natural gas production. It will be some time before Neurock and his team provide a system that can make use of this concept in a viable fashion, but the science behind the concept is sound. If successful, Neurock may be able to unlock a new generation of natural gas production.