Scientists at the National University of Singapore have recently made a breakthrough in their work to make natural gas storage and transmission safer and more efficient.
The new development could revolutionize the natural gas industry. Getting the gas out of the ground is only half of the battle. Once natural gas is extracted, its transportation and storage bring a new set of logistical complications and potential dangers. Traditionally, once extracted, natural gas is pressurized and sent through a maze of various pipelines until it reaches a processing facility. There, the raw gas undergoes various processes in order to prepare it for transportation, storage, or end use.
If the gas is to be stored, it is typically kept in its gaseous state, and stored in deep underground reservoirs to be extracted again at a later date. In other instances, the gas is converted into a liquid, which is then called liquified natural gas or LNG, and is stored in large, super-cooled tanks, which are also used for transportation via truck, rail, or boat. Both of these processes come with significant logistic and safety concerns.
For instance, reinjecting natural gas into underground reservoirs poses the risk of surface damage and earthquakes near the injection site. Transporting LNG is also dangerous, as the risk of accidents or leaks occurring during transport that could lead to catastrophic failures like explosions.
Engineers at the National University of Singapore have developed a new option, converting natural gas into a solid by mimicking a natural process. The process introduces the gas to a mixture of low-toxicity chemicals, including L-tryptophan, to turn the gas into a solid hydrate. Natural gas hydrates are essentially natural gas trapped in water molecules which then become a solid. This process happens naturally, but over a period of millions of years. This new process can turn gas into hydrate solids in under 15 minutes, resulting in a stable, non-explosive substance that could simplify storage and transmission.
Breakthroughs like this will certainly help the natural gas industry’s longevity in our energy mix, as it simplifies the process and makes storage and transportation safer. This technology is not currently being used in the industry, but advancements like this have the potential to radically change the post-extraction process.