Over 200 billion feet per year of natural gas at remote production sites is flared
in the United States. This wastes valuable resources, increases air emissions and
burns profit. West Virginia University researchers have been developing several
innovative approaches to utilize natural gas. These approaches include the catalytic
approach, electrocatalytic approach and advanced combustion approach.
Catalytic approach: The efficient direct conversion of flare gas to value-added liquid
chemicals through single step dehydroaromatization (DHA) has been studied for decades
but remains non-commercially viable. DHA’s major issues include rapid catalyst
deactivation and comparatively low single-pass conversion levels of ~10% (700oC).
The most important step in methane DHA is the activation of strong C-H bonds in
methane. WVU researchers Hu and Bhattacharyya have demonstrated that microwave
enhanced DHA catalysis boosts the rate of aromatics production by two orders of
magnitude. The novelty of the technique is the use of electromagnetic energy to
enable activation and transformation of chemical bonds at the interface of the
catalyst and the reactants, thus lowering activation energy, achieving higher yields
at a relatively low overall temperature. The research has led to a fundamental
understanding of chemical and physical processes at the molecular scale including
selective bond activation and novel separation science with implications beyond
Electrocatalytic approach: With one-step conversion of chemical energy directly into
electrical energy, solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) have the ability to achieve efficiencies
of >60% and up to 97% carbon capture. Two barriers hinder NG-fueled SOFC performance.
First, the relatively retarded oxidation reaction rate at the anode constrains
output current and allows coke formation when free carbon accumulates at the anode.
Second is the lack of an effective coke-tolerant catalyst to break stable C-H bonds.
WVU researcher Liu harness overpotential-excited electrocatalytic conversion of
NG to enhance oxidation and will employ atomic layer deposition (ALD) to fabricate
an anode that prevents or minimizes coking. The research is focused on investigating
the activation effect of overpotential on NG conversion and the size-sensitivity
of Ni on methane adsorption and carbon deposition.
Advanced combustion approach: NGL-flexible IC engine or turbine operation needs to
avoid combustion issues such as flashback, blow out, instabilities, or autoignition.
The use of detailed chemical kinetic mechanisms that accurately describe the combustion
properties of multi-component C1-C5 hydrocarbon blends representative of NGL-rich
gas would help solve these issues. But despite the large number of studies on NG
flame behavior or global combustion effects for single, binary, or ternary gas
mixtures. WVU researcher Dumitrescu focus on quantifying every important initial,
boundary, and operation condition, including using optical diagnostics to measure
flame parameters believed to have strong effects on combustion stability, efficiency,