August 16, 2008
Synfuels International Cuts Natural Gas To Liquids Cost

Synfuels International claims they've found a way to cut the cost of converting natural gas to liquid fuels.

A Texas company says that it has developed a cheaper and cleaner way to convert natural gas into gasoline and other liquid fuels, making it economical to tap natural-gas reserves that in the past have been too small or remote to develop.

The company behind the technology, Dallas-based Synfuels International, says that the process uses fewer steps and is far more efficient than more established techniques based on the Fischer-Tropsch process.

If this process works well it will drive up the price of natural gas as more natural gas gets used to produce liquid fuels for transportation. That will, in turn, reduce the desirability of natural gas for use in heating and electric power generation.

A better way to convert natural gas into liquid fuels using small chemical plants would allow many smaller and/or remote natural fields to be tapped. For example, the natural gas on the northern slope of Alaska hasn't been exploited yet because the costs of building a natural gas pipeline to bring it down to the lower 48 states is quite high. A couple of pipelines are in early development. But a way to convert the Alaska natural gas to liquid form would allow the existing Alaska oil pipeline to move the liquid south.

The article also mentions another start-up company, Gas Reaction Technologies, a spin-off from UC Santa Barbara, which claims its gas-to-liquid technology will work well for medium and small sized natural gas fields.

If either of these companies substantially lowers the cost of gas-to-liquid that will undermine the rationale for the T. Boone Pickens proposal to shift more toward natural gas as a vehicle fuel. Why use natural gas directly when it can be converted to a far more convenient liquid form? But since the conversion itself uses energy natural gas converted to liquid fuel represents a loss of energy that would not occur if natural gas was directly burned in cars.

I am skeptical that we'll ever see a big shift to natural gas for vehicle transportation. Liquid fuels are more convenient and use up less trunk space. Technological developments that cut costs for doing the natural gas-to-liquid conversion will provide a more convenient and therefore more valuable way to use natural gas.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 August 16 11:07 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels

Paul F. Dietz said at August 17, 2008 3:04 PM:

It's my understanding that in the standard process for cracking natural gas into acetylene, only 1/3 of the carbon ends up in the acetylene. The rest is burned to provide energy to drive the process. I doubt a process that starts with that is going to be more efficient than FT.

Fat Man said at August 17, 2008 8:13 PM:

Process heat could be provided by outside sources, e.g. nuclear, solar, etc.

I do not see a transportation fuel that cannot be safely handled by amateurs at STP as being a long term solution to anything. In this respect, Gasoline is better than NG, but diesel is the best, because of its lower volatility and higher ignition temperature.

Nick G said at August 20, 2008 2:10 PM:

Paul, they say they've improved the process to 50% efficiency end-to-end. Not quite as good as LNG, but not bad.

I want to know how close they are.

ChrisA said at August 24, 2008 3:32 AM:

In point of fact natural gas to LNG is around 90% efficient on a carbon basis, compared to the claimed 50% for this technology. I predict no plants will be built using this technology, it will be too risky to build at the scale needed to make it viable. No-one will invest the multi-billions needed. In any event methanol manufacture from natural gas is around 70% efficient, so if you want to make liquid fuels from natural gas that would be the way to go. Methanol technology is already proven at scale.

jared conners said at August 24, 2008 11:23 PM:

I don't think that Synfuels is claiming to have superior efficiency compared to all other technologies out there. They only claim that they are more efficient than FT and at much smaller scales than FT technology. So this technology would be ideal for conversion of gas reserves that are far from market that are untapped or currently being flared. The liquid product is also flexible since they can produce either diesel, 95 octane gasolene, or ethylene.

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