The University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) announced today it is working with FuelCell Energy, Inc., an integrated stationary fuel cell manufacturer located in Danbury, Connecticut, to develop a durable, low-cost, and high-performance electrochemical cell to convert natural gas and other methane-rich gas into methanol, a major chemical commodity with worldwide applications in the production of liquid fuels, solvents, resins, and polymers.
The EERC’s portion of the project is being funded through matching funds from the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Research ND Program. The Research ND award was a first for the EERC.
“This is a fine example of leveraging private sector dollars with state research funds on a technology that could greatly impact North Dakota’s economy. This project involves new technologies that produce value-added products from both fossil and renewable methane,” said EERC Director Tom Erickson.
FuelCell Energy’s team also includes scientists and engineers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the University of Connecticut, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The $3,500,000 project was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) in order to develop entirely new ways to generate, store, and use energy. The project is directed at developing an electrochemical cell that would directly convert methane to methanol and other liquid fuels using advanced metal catalysts.
“The electrochemical gas-to-liquid technology concept could lead to a modular, efficient, and cost-effective solution deployed in both large-scale industrial plants and in situations where natural gas is available in smaller quantities,” said Ted Aulich, Project Manager and EERC Senior Research Manager.
Aulich continued, “Our role in this project is to help improve the performance and economics of an ‘anode catalyst,’ a critical component of the electrochemical gas-to-liquid technology.”
The cost-competitiveness of natural gas can be increased significantly by converting it to liquids, since liquid hydrocarbons, such as methanol, have up to ten times the value of natural gas on an energy basis. The ability to monetize natural gas in smaller-scale plants could be a value-added prospect in various industries.
In addition, historic and future cost analyses indicate that methanol is an ideal “energy currency” based on its utility as an energy carrier that can be relatively easily converted to gasoline- and/or diesel-compatible transportation fuels, hydrogen, and industrial chemicals.
“This technology has multiple applications,” said Chris Zygarlicke, EERC Assistant Director. “Another example is that it can be utilized to turn methane-rich landfill gas, or possibly even flare gas, into methanol for various chemical or energy applications.”