Within six months, scientists believe they may be close to completing a nanotechnology catalyst to allow affordable, marketable petroleum product using nanotechnology to convert natural gas to liquid form.
Jupiter Fuels LLC, located at Camp Minden, in partnership with Louisiana Tech University, has been working for the last three years to develop a more affordable way to convert natural gas, thereby making it more affordable to consumers. David Madden, president of the company, says the ultimate goal is a cheaper way to convert natural gas to liquid.
“It would be a new catalyst to make Fischer-Tropsch more efficient,” he said. “There’s lots of natural gas. We have natural gas everywhere. If you convert natural gas and turn it into a stable liquid that will not evaporate at room temperature, then you can transport it anywhere you want to.”
Currently, some energy companies are using cryogenic technology that compresses natural gas into a frozen liquefied natural gas, around -120 Fahrenheit. They put it on a ship, transport it to Europe or Asia and then thaw it out for use. This process would eliminate all that, he said.
Officials with Jupiter Fuels say converting it to liquid fuels allows the use of existing fuel production infrastructure and existing transportation technologies.
“It is the goal of this project to continue the process of developing catalysts used in the Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis that can be utilized on a commercial scale,” according to a description of the project from Louisiana Tech University’s Research Center. “Operational analysis will examine variables including temperature, pressure, conversion on catalyst performance, and space velocity pertaining to product distribution and catalyst lifetime. In order to increase production, efforts will focus on ultimate catalyst deposition and catalyst substrate preparation.”
The process builds on the Fischer-Tropsch (pronounced Fisher-Trope) method of conversion discovered by two German scientists – Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch – in the 1920s. The idea is to take carbon monoxide and hydrogen and convert it to liquid fuel. The new catalyst uses nanotechnology to link together the compounds needed to convert natural gas to liquid, Madden said.
“Thus far, we’ve been pretty successful in dialing that in accurately,” he said.
The nanotechnology is inside the Fischer-Tropsch reactor, Madden explained, saying it looks like a wire brush someone would clean a barbecue grill with. But it’s small enough that a person would have to look at it through an electron microscope.
“We’re making nano-wires, and a nano is a billionth of a meter,” he said, “and we’re making wires that are about 25 atoms wide.”
Jupiter Fuels was born about three years ago when Louisiana Tech was seeking support for its athletic programs. The Maddens decided to invest in the university’s math and science program. Two scientists – Drs. Chester Wilson and John McDonald – developed a working theory using nanotechnology but needed a place to test the theory. Thus Jupiter Fuels, a pilot plant, came to be.
McDonald, a professor at Louisiana Tech, works for ASI, or American Strategic Innovations Energy and Defense Research, a sister company of Jupiter Fuels.
“As we progress in our catalyst development versions, we can start up the reactor, run it and check the results,” Madden said. “We actually think we’re pretty close to being through with a marketable nanotechnology catalyst for gas to liquid conversion.”
It will be a huge win for Louisiana Tech, the Institute of Micro manufacturing and north Louisiana, he said.
“When Louisiana Tech, Camp Minden and Jupiter Fuels and the community working together to develop new commercial products, we all win,” Madden added.