December 14, 2014
An MIT team (including Plasma Science and Fusion Center principal research engineer Leslie Bromberg and MITei research scientist Daniel Cohn) is developing a small-scale system that converts natural gas into easily transported liquid fuels — a design especially suited for use at oil drilling sites where escaping natural gas is now burned or vented. To keep the size and cost down, the researchers are performing a critical step of the conversion process inside a conventional, mass-produced engine. And to minimize cost, complexity, and maintenance needs — important for installations in remote areas — they are focusing on producing methanol, a simple chemical with rapidly expanding uses. Extensive modeling studies and engine experiments confirm the technical viability of the process and show that — in some situations — the cost of producing methanol could be competitive with costs at large conventional methanol plants. A pilot-scale demonstration of the system will begin soon.