Transforming natural gas into liquid fuel isn’t a scientific obstacle for energy companies. It just takes billions of dollars, a massive plant and decades worth of natural gas supplies.
Now, an Arlington company and university researchers said they’ve successfully reduced the technology’s cost and made it portable. The lab version at the University of Texas (UTA) at Arlington can make about one liter of fuel each day. The field version is expected to create about 500 barrels per day.
“We work on a lot of small things, and some of them don’t lead to anything,” said Brian Dennis, an engineering professor and one of the lead researchers. “But sometimes the small thing does show something very interesting.”
When finally in the field, the equipment could cost about $40 million to $45 million and take up a couple of acres.
UTA officials held a ceremony last week celebrating their new Conrad Greer Lab, part of an eight-year, multimillion-dollar partnership with Greenway Innovative Energy on liquid-to-gas technology. The company provided UTA with $750,000 for the lab that houses their collaboration.
The company has paid the university at least $2 million – not counting the lab donation – for its gas-to-liquid technology.
The UTA team is led by Dennis and Fred MacDonnell, a professor and chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The two have worked together for years on the project to create fuel.
Raymond Wright, chief executive officer of Greenway Innovative, said he’s in “deep discussions” with investors about deploying this new technology in about 15 to 18 months.
Coal mines eyed
Company officials are looking to coal mines as the first customers. Methane escaping from mines is a hazard to workers as well as to the environment. Methane is explosive and also a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.
Wright said his technology would keep much of the methane from escaping into the atmosphere and turn it into fuel. The process would also create clean water and enough heat to return some electricity to the grid.
“We can take that methane from a deadly source, and we can turn that into a good product, a clean product, and create a new economy in some of these areas that have been decimated by the closing of the coal mines,” he said.