For petroleum engineers braking crude oil into fuels is well-developed technology.  But making up molecules of petroleum products, especially diesel, gasoline and jet fuel has been an item of great interest without commercial success for years.  It’s not easy at all to build a petroleum molecule.

A year ago the University of Saskatchewan’s (UoS) Jianguo Zhang, Hui Wang, and Ajay K. Dalai in the Department of Chemical Engineering published a paper outlining a catalyst process using methane and CO2 to make petroleum molecules. In the meantime Carbon Sciences Inc., a company developing technology to transform carbon dioxide and methane into gasoline and other portable fuels has been developing its own catalyst for the efficient transformation of CO2 and methane gas into a synthesis gas, which can then be further catalytically processed into gasoline and other fuels.

Last Tuesday December 28th 2010 saw UoS and Carbon Sciences announce signing a worldwide exclusive license agreement for the patented technology for the dry reforming of methane with CO2.  The waste material is water.

Carbon Sciences Process Block Diagram. Click image for the largest view.

Carbon Sciences says the technology licensed from the university directly complements its own development efforts in this area.  The description might require more precision, but this is what we have.

The history of the petroleum industry’s effort to build molecules has for years yielded coking of the catalysts, a kind of hard carbon that builds up on catalysts and shuts the process off.  That effect makes for a very short-term facility life that makes the economics unprofitable.

The UoS technology developed over the past decade by Dr. Wang has demonstrated high performance and reliability. The UoS catalyst achieved 92 % conversion with no detectable sintering, no significant carbon deposition, and thus no catalyst deactivation. Dr. Wang’s research team has successfully tested the catalyst for 2,000 hours of continuous operation in a bench top reactor.  The Canadians are certainly on to something valuable.  The economics are looking much, much better.  Now it’s in the hands of commercial folks.

Byron Elton, CEO of Carbon Sciences, said “We are excited about our license agreement with the University of Saskatchewan as it eliminates a big hurdle in our development plan. We look forward to demonstrating on a larger scale, the commercial viability of this important breakthrough and moving closer to our ultimate goal of producing gasoline and other portable fuels using greenhouse gases.”

The overall reaction is simply: CH4 + CO2 → (C5-10Hn) + H2O . It looks so simple, but getting it done for more than a brief period has been a huge problem.

Assuming the process can go to scale, the opportunity boggles the mind.  Any noteworthy source of methane or natural gas plus a clean supply of CO2 can make the synthesis gas and go on to pure petroleum hydrocarbons.

What’s missing are the other inputs, mainly energy.   The paper suggests fairly high temperatures, but a commercial process isn’t going to let much energy input escape.  That begs some interesting questions.

Would the CO2 effluent from a coal combustion plant have a value or even a natural gas combustor?  With natural gas currently priced in the U.S. at less than 25% the energy value of oil, wouldn’t there be a huge opportunity for reforming waste CO2 and methane back to fuel – getting twice the work from the CO2?

It’s all in the hands of Carbon Sciences now, as a publicly traded firm the staff needs some product and market expansion.  We last looked at the company over two years ago when the effort was given more to organic biocatalysts. Now with the UoS technology perhaps process prototypes and development rigs at commercial scale can get trials. If it works out, well . . .

Let’s wish them luck and god’s speed.  The world economy needs some more fuel supply; oil at over $90 at the end of 2010 isn’t looking like an economic growth driver.


3 Comments so far

  1. jak on January 3, 2011 10:24 PM

    Interesting post, we just need the biogas feedstock to make the process completely without climate change impact. I always wonder in these cases whether going to biogas as a fuel would, in the end, be more energy efficient and economical, after the initial technology transition on the engines.


  2. ed elhhe on January 22, 2011 8:29 PM

    I have been following this company, Carbon Sciences (CABN), for a year now. This partnership should enable it to move this tech to commercialization in the near future. The thought of capturing carbon emmisions fron coal utilities, as an example, and getting a byproduct of fuels (gas, jet fuel,etc.) without importing Oil is mind boggling.

  3. Newbie on February 3, 2011 12:46 PM

    It sounds a little bit unbelievable to transform CO2 again to petroleum molecules.
    I asked CARBON SCIENCES after their announcement of developing and successful testing their new catalyst for any independent verification of the effects.
    I sent 3 e-mails. Unfortunately I didn´t get any answer.
    Think about the reasons…

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