Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

dimanche 13 avril 2003

This innovation from Japanese researchers can potentially revolutionize the energy distribution sector. Instead of transporting liquid gas, they changed gas into a solid material which is easier, safer and cheaper to distribute.

Technology Review has the story. Here is the beginning.

Nearly 95 percent of the known gas fields in the world are too small to justify the costs required pipe the gas to a plant, turn it into a liquid, and then transport it on specially equipped tankers.
But a handful of researchers have an idea that could make these fields worth mining: rather than figure out cheaper ways to transport this cleaner-burning energy source from point A to point B as a liquid, why not change natural gas into a solid substance that’s easier and cheaper to transport?
Japanese researchers Hajime Kanda and Yasuhara Nakajima at Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding in Tokyo think they’ve found a solution with the aid of hydrates, solid crystals in which natural gas -- composed chiefly of methane -- is caged inside of water molecules.
Rather than extracting methane from hydrates, they want to turn methane into hydrates -- essentially, transforming the colorless and odorless gas into small pellets that can be easily stored, transported, and eventually turned back into natural gas. A few months ago Mitsui, in partnership with Osaka University, opened a demonstration plant near Tokyo to promote the concept and show that it works. If the Mitsui’s process proves feasible and economical, many untapped natural gas deposits could become vital energy sources.

Not only it could increase sources of production, it is cheaper to carry solids than liquids. And it's also cheaper to produce because of reduced cooling costs.

The company’s demonstration plant produces as much as 600 kilograms of hydrates per day, moving the methane through all the necessary phases: hydrate formation, storage, pelletizing, and "controlled dissociation," or separation of the gas and water. Whereas a liquid natural gas facility requires temperatures of -162 ºC, Mitsui’s plant operates at -10 ºC, which means huge savings in cooling costs.

This gas-to-solid process is also safer because of reduced risks of ignition.

So, if this process combines only advantages, why isn't in worldwide production? Because these hydrates are not well known yet. So there are still many scientific and engineering problems to solve.

Source: David Wolman, Technology Review, April 11, 2003

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