C1 Catalysis for Gas to Liquid:

a joint experimental/modeling/theory Project at PEER and MSC

Yongchun Tang#, William A. Goddard*, Rick Muller*, Rachel Niemer*, Deb Chakraborty*, Yun Hee Jang*, Robert Neilsen*, Jeremy Kua*, Francesco Faglioni*, Michael Todd Feldmann*,

Dean Philipp*

Petroleum Energy and Environmental Research Center (PEER),

California Institute of Technology, Walnut CA

Materials and process Simulation Center (MSC),

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena CA

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the petroleum industry over the next decade is to develop the technology for economical conversion of natural gas to liquid (GTL) to obtain such products as methanol, benzene, gasoline, and diesel. Consequently, there are great research activities in both industry and academia to develop such strategies for GTL. In the last few years, there has been a steady improvement in GTL technology, most notably involving air separation, membrane technology, improved selectivity/activity catalysts for syngas conversion, and the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Unfortunately despite these developments, GTL technology is economic only at a few special locations, still being based on a two-step process:

  1. methane to syngas and
  2. Conversion of syngas to liquid chemicals.

The cost of the first step accounts for almost 50% of the total GTL cost. In the US, huge quantities of chemicals such as methanol and acetic acid are presently produced via this indirect conversion route. Direct conversion of methane to liquid chemicals would bring major cost savings to the petrochemical industry.

Numerous methods and catalysts are being investigated for direct methane conversion research, and good progress is being reported. However, none seems close to developing viable alternatives to the syngas route. We have concluded that to unlock the secrets of direct methane conversion we must consider novel approaches

As a result we have established a collaboration between the Petroleum Energy and Environmental Research (PEER) laboratory at Caltech and the Molecular Process and Simulation Center (MSC) at Caltech to undertake a joint experimental/modeling/theory research program aimed at developing viable new methods for C1 chemistry. This will utilize advanced simulations and novel laboratory experiments coordinated to stimulated and test new ideas about the various processes. Although the emphasis of the work is on direct methane conversion, other challenges in C1 chemistry such as low temperature methanol synthesis will also be investigated. An Overview of these GTL research activities will be discussed.