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DOE awards $25M to improve natural gas operations

The US. Department of Energy (DOE) selected 16 projects to receive nearly $25 million in federal funding for cost-shared projects to advance natural gas infrastructure technology development. DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy will provide federal funding for these projects.

These projects aim to develop tools, methods, and technologies to enhance cost-effectively the safety and efficiency of the US’ natural gas production, gathering, storage, and transmission infrastructure.

Project selections fall under three areas of interest (AOIs) as follows:

  • AOI 1: Advanced Technologies to Mitigate Emissions from and Increase the Efficiency of Natural Gas Transportation Infrastructure

  • AOI 2: Process-Intensified Technologies for the Upcycling of Flare Gas into Transportable, Value-Added Products

  • AOI 3: Advanced Methane Detection and Measurement Technology Validation

AOI 1: Advanced Technologies to Mitigate Emissions from and Increase the Efficiency of Natural Gas Transportation Infrastructure

  • Low-Cost Retrofit Kit for Integral Reciprocating Compressors to Reduce Emissions and Enhance Efficiency. The University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK) plans to develop, build, and validate a low-cost, field-installable, remotely-controlled natural gas compressor retrofit kit. The project team will specifically design the kit for existing reciprocating compressors used in production, gathering, transmission, and processing sections along the natural gas value chain. This new retrofit technology—consisting of an air management system, integrated sensors, and a cloud-connected control system—will reduce emissions (i.e., methane and volatile organic compounds), improve operating efficiency, and reduce operating costs.

    DOE Funding: $1,488,391; Non-DOE Funding: $394,751; Total Value: $1,883,142

  • Reduction of Methane Leaks through Corrosion Mitigation Pre-Treatments for Pipelines with Field-Applied Coatings. – DNV GL USA, Inc aims to develop a new, corrosive-resistant, multi-layered coating (metallic and polymeric) used to repair and protect natural gas pipeline repair welds, to reduce natural gas emissions caused by corrosion. The project will verify the performance of a new metallic-polymeric coating system using an instrumented disbonded coating coupon buried in the field next to an operating pipeline. This project brings together an experienced team consisting of a pipeline company (Enbridge), a welding company (Lincoln Electric), and a corrosion expert (DNV GL USA, Inc).

    DOE Funding: $1,499,980; Non-DOE Funding: $375,000; Total Value: $1,874,980

  • Methane Mitigation Using Linear Motor Leak Recovery Compressor. Gas Technology Institute plans to design, build, and test a novel, low-cost natural gas leak recovery compressor to capture a wide variety of leaks across the natural gas value chain, including those in reciprocating compressor and pneumatic controllers. The ventilation system at legacy and newly installed transmission, storage, gathering, and processing facilities will capture natural gas emissions and compress them into the pipeline system. The goal is to develop a compressor capable of compressing the natural gas emissions to 1,000 pound-force per square inch.

    DOE Funding: $1,499,920; Non-DOE Funding: $375,000; Total Value: $1,874,920

  • Solid-State Mixed-Potential Electrochemical Sensors for Natural Gas Leak Detection and Quality Control. University of New Mexico aims to develop advanced gas sensors (mixed potential electrochemical [MPE]) coupled with advanced computation (artificial neural networks). These sensors will characterize the natural gas pipeline composition and be capable of distinguishing pipeline methane emissions from other sources, such as agriculture or wetlands. The automobile industry deploys low-cost MPE sensors today to measure tailpipe emissions. This application has demonstrated that MPE sensors are robust under harsh environments, are accurate, and have rapid response times to measuring mixed gas compositions. This project will develop low-cost, widely deployable methane detection sensors that will allow industry to reduce costs associated with natural gas pipeline monitoring.

    DOE Funding: $1,500,000; Non-DOE Funding: $375,000; Total Value: $1,875,000

  • Predictive Self-Healing Seals for Gas Transmission. University of Tulsa plans to combine active self-healing/self-repair functionality combined with digital leak detection/notification for pneumatic controllers deployed throughout the natural gas transmission system. Pneumatic controllers are one of the major sources of natural gas emissions. The advanced self-healing pneumatic controller bladder system will be demonstrated in a laboratory setting and subsequently scaled up to simulate field operational conditions. Successful demonstration of this integrated self-healing valve system will advance the goal of reducing natural gas emissions across thousands of installed pneumatic controllers.

    DOE Funding: $954,856; Non-DOE Funding: $238,714; Total Value: $1,193,570

  • Methane Mitigator: Development of a Scalable Vent Mitigation Strategy to Simultaneously Reduce Methane Emissions and Fuel Consumption from the Compression Industry. West Virginia University Research Corporation will develop a Methane Mitigator (M2) system designed to eliminate fugitive natural gas emissions from well site operations and pipeline compressor stations. Specifically, the M2 vapor recovery system will gather natural gas emissions from compressor vents, pneumatic controller vents, and tank vents, and integrate the emissions into the fuel system feeding the compressor engines. The M2 system will be validated and optimized on a commercial-scale engine in a laboratory followed by a field trial at a natural gas well or compression station. The technology is expected to reduce natural gas emissions and improve operational efficiencies.

    DOE Funding: $1,498,405; Non-DOE Funding: $433,093; Total Value: $1,931,498

AOI 2: Process-Intensified Technologies for the Upcycling of Flare Gas into Transportable, Value-Added Products

AOI 2A: Multifunction Catalyst

  • Modular System for Direct Conversion of Methane into Methanol via Photocatalysis. Stanford University aims to develop a process-intensified catalyst for photochemical conversion of methane to methanol. The project will overcome challenges associated with the high-temperature activation of methane by employing a novel photocatalytic methane activation step that takes place at a gas-water interface such that methanol can be formed at room temperature. Photons are used to excite hydroxyl radicals in aqueous media, which then excite methane molecules to form methanol on the catalyst surface. This project will identify and develop new catalysts and photoactive materials in combination with a proposed reactor design capable of converting associated natural gas to high-value products at remote sites throughout the United States.

    DOE Funding: $1,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $250,000; Total Value: $1,250,000

  • Electrocatalytically Upgrading Methane to Benzene in a Highly Compacted Microchannel Protonic Ceramic Membrane Reactor. Clemson University plans to develop a process-intensified catalyst for electrochemical methane dehydrogenation (DHA) to produce one or more of the aromatic hydrocarbons, (i.e., benzene, toluene and xylene [BTX]). In this project, Clemson University will develop a highly compacted microchannel protonic ceramic membrane, integrating multiple functions: single-atom catalysis, electrocatalysis, membrane catalysis, and membrane separation. The process also includes a novel reversible fuel cell design concept capable of delivering either potable water or electricity as co-products. The multifunctional catalytic process will address venting and flaring associated with oil and natural gas operations.

    DOE Funding: $1,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $250,000; Total Value: $1,250,000

  • Core-Shell Oxidative Aromatization Catalysts for Single Step Liquefaction of Distributed Shale Gas. North Carolina State University aims to develop a process-intensified catalyst for thermochemical, oxidative coupling of methane to produce one or more of the aromatic hydrocarbons, BTX. In this project, North Carolina State University will synthesize and test a multifunctional core-shell catalyst. The catalyst combines oxidative coupling with recent breakthroughs in dehydroaromatization and redox-based selective hydrogen combustion catalysis. The project, operated in a modular system under cyclical operations, will design and demonstrate a multifunctional catalyst for single-step conversion of the light components of natural gas. The novel catalyst and process can improve the value and transportability of stranded natural gas.

    DOE Funding: $999,971; Non-DOE Funding: $256,220; Total Value: $1,256,191

  • Isolated Single-Metal Atoms Supported on Silica for One-Step Non-Oxidative Methane Upgrading to Hydrogen and Value-Added Hydrocarbons. University of Maryland plans to develop a process-intensified catalyst for thermochemical DHA to produce one or more of the aromatic hydrocarbons BTX. In this project, single-metal atom catalysts that operate at medium-high temperatures will be developed and tested. Single-metal atoms achieve methane activation with limited catalyst coke formation. The integration of novel single-atom catalyst in a short contact time microreactor could enable unprecedented performance, leading to economically feasible, stranded natural gas upgrading.

    DOE Funding: $1,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $292,515; Total Value: $1,292,515

  • Process Intensification by a One-Step, Plasma-Assisted Synthesis of Liquid Chemicals from Light Hydrocarbons. The University of Notre Dame aims to develop a process-intensified, plasma-assisted methane conversion process to produce pyroles, nitrogen-containing organic chemicals. Low-temperature plasmas can create reactive chemical environments that can activate and convert hydrocarbons to valuable products. Plasma-assisted catalytic processes have the potential to minimize the flaring of light hydrocarbons.

    DOE Funding: $1,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $250,000; Total Value: $1,250,000

  • Methane Partial Oxidation over Multifunctional 2-D Materials. University of South Carolina plans to develop a process-intensified catalyst for thermochemical methane partial oxidation to produce methanol. In this project, a set of multi-functional, graphene-based materials will be produced as selective catalysts. The University of South Carolina will design these catalysts so that selective methane oxidation will be produced as selective catalysts and can be carried out at low temperatures and moderate pressures. In addition, techno-economic analyses will benchmark the catalytic process against more conventional processes and be used to identify opportunities for refinement of catalyst composition and reactor operating conditions. This project will result in the development of advanced catalysts capable of cost effectively converting associated natural gas into high-value chemical products (e.g., methanol).

    DOE Funding: $1,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $261,624; Total Value: $1,261,624

AOI 2B: Modular Equipment and PI Design Concepts for Conversion of Flare Gas to High-Value Carbon Products

  • Gas to Carbon Fiber Crystals (G2-CFX). Palo Alto Research Center, Inc. (PARC) aims to develop a modular, field-transportable molten catalyst-assisted pyrolysis unit. The unit converts flared natural gas into hydrogen that is used to provide process heat and solid carbon powder that can be trucked to a central facility where it will be turned into high-value carbon microfibers. The proposed technology promises to provide an economically attractive alternative to natural gas flaring—helping to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Downstream, the proposed solution could fundamentally disrupt carbon fiber markets through the production if an ultra-low-cost carbon fiber that would be attractive to large markets, such as the automotive sector.

    DOE Funding: $2,818,376; Non-DOE Funding: $738,569; Total Value: $3,556,945

  • Modular Processing of Flare Gas for Carbon Nanoproducts. The University of Colorado plans to develop a one-step, solid catalyst-assisted pyrolysis unit employing chemical vapor deposition to grow carbon nanoparticles and carbon nanofibers (CNF). Colorado will study the synthesis and the impacts of these fibers on the durability of concrete. The process is conceptualized to be modular and mobile with easy turndown for manufacture on a skid to be readily transported between natural gas wells as production rates change.

    DOE Funding: $3,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $750,000; Total Value: $3,750,000

  • Microwave Catalysis for Process Intensified Modular Production of Carbon Nanomaterials from Natural Gas. West Virginia Research Corporation aims to develop a new, low-cost process-intensified modular process to directly convert flare gas to carbon nanomaterials (e.g., nanotubes) and CNF with high conversion efficiency, selectivity and stability. The proposed technology is based on microwave-assisted pyrolysis. This research is a novel approach to selectively activate stable molecules via integration of microwave chemistry and multifunctional catalysis that is conducive to modular reactor design and remote operation.

    DOE Funding: $3,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $791,221; Total Value: $3,791,221

AOI 3: Advanced Methane Detection and Measurement Technology Validation

  • Accelerating Natural Gas Leak Detection and Quantification Solutions Through Transparent and Rigorous Scientific Validation. Colorado State University plans to implement a comprehensive process of protocol development and testing to accelerate the adoption of natural gas leak detection and quantification (LDAQ) solutions by natural gas operators and approval of the solutions by regulatory authorities. The project will 1) develop test protocols for LDAQ methods and perform controlled testing at Colorado State University’s Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center; 2) develop protocols for field-testing of solutions and conduct a comprehensive field trial of multiple LDAQ solutions at a variety of oil and natural gas facilities; and 3) demonstrate methods to evaluate the control efficiency of LDAQ solutions using simulation software.

    DOE Funding: $1,499,949; Non-DOE Funding: $395,000; Total Value: $1,894,949

DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory will manage all of the selected projects.


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