Saturday, June 1, 2013

Natural gas to energy - faster and efficient

Natural gas is fast-becoming the darling of global energy industry, especially after the introduction of new shale gas extraction technologies that have made natural gas cheaper compared to many other energy option, both renewable as well as renewable.

Judging by the latest study by the researchers at the North Carolina State University, natural gas could soon become even more popular energy option, not only in terms of efficiency and price but also is terms of positive environmental effects. The University's chemical engineering researchers have been able to develop a new mechanism that can convert natural gas into energy up to 70 times faster, while effectively capturing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) thus making lot cleaner the entire production process.

The lead author of this study Fanxing Li  said that this new mechanism „ could make power generation from natural gas both cleaner and more efficient" thus opening door for even bigger natural gas production in years to come.

The secret to this new process is called „chemical looping“, and refers to state in which a solid, oxygen-laden material – a so called "oxygen carrier" is put in contact with natural gas. During this process the oxygen atoms in the oxygen carrier interact with the natural gas, which results in the combustion that produces energy.

In previous studies the oxygen carriers were made from a composite of inert ceramic material and metal oxides but this has changed after Li's team was able to develop a new type of oxygen carrier that include a "mixed ionic-electronic conductor – the one that effectively shuttles oxygen atoms into the natural gas very efficiently thus making the chemical looping combustion process approximately 70 times faster as compared to previous ones. This mixed ionic-electronic conductor material is held in a nano-scale matrix with an iron oxide, most commonly known as rust. What this basically means is that rust serves as a source of oxygen for the mixed conductor to interact with the natural gas.

In addition to effectively producing energy, the combustion process also produces water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2). By removing the water vapor with the process of condensation, the researchers are able to create a stream of concentrated CO2 to be captured for sequestration.

The additional advantage of this new process is that the oxygen carrier combusts natural gas much more quickly than previous chemical looping technologies  thus making smaller chemical looping reactors more economically feasible because they allow users to create the same amount of energy by using significantly smaller system.

The further improving this process could even lead to commercial applications that would use chemical looping, which would help us limit greenhouse gas emissions and thus contribute to global fight against climate change.

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