Monday, May 11, 2009

Methane to Liquid Fuels for Efficient Transport

Methane is a relatively clean fuel, but is often less practical to transport longer distances than liquid fuels, such as methanol. The University of Virginia is to develop a new center to develop technologies for converting methane gas and other hydrocarbon and fossil resources into methanol and other readily transportable and higher-value liquid fuels. Methanol figures to become important due to its multifunctionality in various types of fuel cells, combustion engines, and in flex-fuel engines.
Natural gas, which is largely made up of methane, is an extremely abundant energy resource in the world, but many of the largest fields are located in remote areas, such as Alaska's North Slope, making access extremely difficult and expensive. The only feasible way to transport this energy resource would be to convert it from a gas to a liquid, thereby condensing the energy into transportable units. Transporting methane as a gas would require a substantial build-up of infrastructure and cost tens of billions of dollars for new pipelines.

"If we can find new technologies that will allow the large-scale utilization of methane, particularly in the transportation sector, the U.S. could very quickly supplant our use of petroleum and greatly reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum," Gunnoe said.

Methanol, if produced in massive quantities, could be mixed with gasoline like current ethanol/gasoline formulas, and therefore would not require changes to the way motor vehicle engines are designed. And current "flex fuel" engines that run on 85 percent ethanol with 15 percent gasoline still could run on an 85/15 mix of methanol/gasoline. _biofueldaily

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