Toyota May Be Developing Plug-Ins
Ford Expands Flex-Fuel Efforts in US, Europe

Total Launches Gas-to-Liquids Research Program, Looks to Microchannel Reactors


Cross-section of a Velocys microchannel reactor

International oil major Total is launching a new R&D program on converting natural gas to liquids (GTL processes). The company has recently signed a cooperation agreement with a number of partners in science and industry in this area, including Battelle subsidiary Velocys.

Total is working to develop a new technology that uses microchannel reactors and more active catalysts to produce the synthesis gas used in the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Velocys is a microchannel technology specialist, with its chemical processors being characterized by parallel arrays of microchannels, with typical dimensions in the 0.025-cm to 0.5-cm (0.010- to 0.200-inch) range.

Processes are improved by reducing heat and mass transfer distances and thus decreasing transfer resistances between process fluids and channel walls. This structure allows use of much more active catalysts than conventional systems, greatly increasing the throughput per unit volume. Overall system volumes can be reduced by ten fold to one hundred fold compared to conventional hardware.

Some of the applications relevant to Total’s GTL push under development at Velocys include:

  • Development of compact synthetic fuel production systems suitable for installation on land or on offshore floating production facilities. This would offer Total a way to monetize stranded gas resources, much as Syntroleum is proposing with its compact GTL Barge.

  • Methanol synthesis suitable for land-based or offshore floating production facility.

  • Rapid cycle separation process to upgrade sub-quality natural gas streams

  • Steam reforming

Velocys designs and tests its technology at full-scale. Scale-up is then achieved by simply increasing the number of channels in the system. Since each channel performs identical unit operations, the scale-up risks are minimized. The primary challenge to this approach is creating manifolds that evenly distribute flow throughout the microchannel devices. Velocys has extensive experience in designing and building manifolds to distribute fluids uniformly in very complex devices.

Total has also recently entered into a partnership with Neste Oil to build a next-generation biomass to liquids test plant (NexBTL) at one of its refineries. The microchannel reactors could play a role in the development of those processes as well.



Roger Arnold

The two presentations listed under /resources/ above are terrific presentations, and very good news. Replacing "economies of scale" with "economies of mass production" for new plants is exactly what we need to make conversion of small to modest quantities of stranded gas economically feasible. Likewise for gasification of biomass and conversion to F-T liquids. Fits well with utilization of solar energy and wind power to augment local production of fuels from biomass, coal, or heavy crude.


Methanol can be synthesised by adding a hydroxyl radical to methane. This leads me to ask which has greater energy density, methanol or LNG? Conversion of methane to methanol for tanker transport means the need for gargantuan thermos bottles is negated. Just a thought.


LNG = 7,216 Wh/l
Methanol = 4,600 Wh/l
Gasoline = 9,700 Wh/l

Giant Thermos negated, carry less energy.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)