Turning Wasteful Gas Flares Into Useful Liquid Fuel

exxon gas flaring photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
"Today we flare enough natural gas to power Germany"
Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated in 2005 that about 0.5% of all CO2 emissions from fossil fuels came from natural gas flaring. The most shocking thing about this is that all this energy (and we're talking about a lot of BTUs... the quote above is by Jeff McDaniel, business development director for Velocys.) isn't actually used for anything useful (unless you count the light, but burning lots of natural gas is a ridiculous way to produce light). That's why I'm happy to see that some people are working on ways to end this wasteful practice.Developing Gas-to-Liquid Processes
The Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras, is looking for way to deal with all the natural gas that its offshore oil drilling is generating. Gas is more complex to bring back to the shore than oil, but flaring it is such a waste and a CO2 emitter that it is looking into technologies developed by Compact GTL and Velocys, two companies working on chemical reactors that could turn the gas into a synthetic liquid fuel similar to crude oil.

Both Compact GTL and Velocys use the same catalytic reactions found in massive GTL facilities: natural gas is first mixed with steam to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen; the resulting syngas is then converted into a waxy form of synthetic crude oil.

However, this is commercially viable only on a huge scale, such as the 140,000-barrel-per-day plant that Shell is building in Qatar, which will use two dozen 1,200-ton reactor vessels. Velocys and Compact GTL must squeeze the same chemistry into a package that will fit on an offshore platform or on the deck of the floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessels increasingly used to explore and service offshore oil fields. (source)

If the technology can be successfully demonstrated and deployed, hopefully it will spread and eventually eliminate gas flaring. How carbon-intensive the resulting fuel is will depend on how much energy is required by the reactors and what type of fuel they use (probably natural gas). But it's still better than flaring.

The only thing better is leaving the gas in the ground (which isn't such a bad idea).

See also: Uganda: Anything But Gas Flaring, Please

Via Technology Review
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