Conversion of Natural Gas

Discussions regarding the creation of renewable resources have been of great importance in the field of environmentally friendly processes. There is a need for alternative fuel sources as the traditional ones are being depleted quickly. Many scientists across the globe have been studying this phenomenon and have been working to develop something which will solve many of the issues in the realm of energy sources.

Natural gas is inexpensive and can be found in abundance. In 2020, it is projected to have increased by 21%; in 2035, by 50%; in 2040, by upwards of 100%. The difficulty with its use in the fuel industry relates to its gaseous state that cannot be implemented as fuel conveniently. There must be a new technology that can efficiently and economically convert the natural gas to a value-added liquid fuel.

Natural gas has a high component of methane gas. The methane provides a new opportunity to transform into a liquid fuel, such as methanol, in order to solve this issue. In traditional applications, methane can be developed into a liquid fuel under a high pressure at a high temperature. This new process created by Dr. Gu gives the capability for the methane gas to be transformed under ambient pressures at ambient temperatures.


Methane upgrading can be utilized in a way that converts the abundant lower-value natural gas to many higher-value products including liquid fuels, like methanol. This upgrading process can be done with the technique called “electrochemical methane upgrading”. This does not require the harsh conditions of high pressure and temperature. Energy needed for the transition can be found in low-cost renewable
electricity and sunlight. This process also utilizes reactive hydroxyl radical that can be generated from electrolysis of water. Methane is then activated by hydroxyl radical and becomes methanol. This new technology forego the harmful effects of high pressure and temperature, which makes the development much more simple and safe to be done. Methane gas can be developed into methanol in a much more stable way that allows for its usage to expand, just as natural gas’ abundance is only expected to increase exponentially as time passes. Development in this area assists in the independence from traditional energy sources and encourages a conversation about the benefits to methane usage. Issues arise in the traditional realm which can be solved with a new conversion and upgrading technique.

There are five experimental steps that are done in sequence to transform the hydron peroxide into a ferrous ion that can be utilized as an energy source. Step one includes generating the hydrogen peroxide by selective electrolysis of water with renewable electricity. Step two is where the hydroxyl radical is produced from hydrogen peroxide by a fenton reaction which then becomes an Fe(3+) ion.

Then, step three involves methyl radical being created from CH4 by OH turning into water as another product. Step four is when methanol product is obtained by the fast reaction between methyl radical and hydroxyl radical. The final step, wherea ferrous ion is regenerated from Fe(3+), is done through a photo reduction reaction with sunlight. Unique and new -- both adjectives that encompass this technique, because this decouples the methane activation from hydroxyl radical generation. Renewable electricity and sunlight are used as the energy input, and the natural gas and water are used as the materials input. This process creates a value-added methanol liquid fuel and hydrogen as a high-value byproduct.

Instead of being done under harsh and expensive conditions including high pressures and heats, this process is achieved in ambient conditions. This process doesn’t harm the substances in ways that the traditional way could, and it is also more cost effective. This would ultimately reduce the production price by a significant amount and would assist in the price difficulties that those on the production and consumer ends are concerned with. It would directly impact the economy and would boost its overall usage in the industry.


Dr. Shuang Gu is currently an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Wichita State University. He received his schooling at Dalian University of Technology in Chemical Engineering. His research interests include advanced ion-conducting polymer electrolytes for electrochemical applications, novel cell designs for high-performance and low-cost redox-flow batteries, the electro-chemical reduction of nitrogen gas for green and sustainable agriculture, and the electrochemical activation of natural gas for liquid-fuel production.


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Rob Gerlach
Director of Technology Transfer

- Patent Pending -