Researchers awarded DOE/NETL grant to develop one-step process for converting natural gas into liquids

Author: Nina Welding

Jason Hicks Feature

A team of Notre Dame engineering researchers has been awarded a grant from the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE/NETL) to design, develop and test a one-step, plasma-assisted catalytic process for direct conversion of natural gas to liquid chemicals.

DOE/NETL focuses on applied research for the clean production and use of domestic energy resources.

The U.S. relies heavily on domestic natural gas for residential, commercial and industrial energy use. Yet each year, billions of cubic feet of natural gas are wasted when gas is flared (burned off) at collection sites where pipelines are not available.

To capture and transform this valuable resource, Notre Dame researchers envision developing a modular and flexible catalytic process that could be used at collection sites to safely and reliably turn methane into liquid chemicals.

“Low-temperature plasmas can create incredibly reactive chemical environments capable of converting gaseous hydrocarbons into more valuable products,” said Jason C. Hicks associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and lead principal investigator.  

“We hypothesize that coupling the plasma with the proper catalyst will facilitate production of liquid chemicals from natural gas feeds and reduce the need for flaring.” The liquids could then be more easily transported to be converted into higher value chemicals or fuels, Hicks said.

Co-principal investigators on the project include David B. Go, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering; Casey O’Brien, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; and William F. Schneider, the H. Clifford and Evelyn A. Brosey Professor of Engineering.