New process may eliminate future fuel shortages

August 6, 2002
| By: Aubrey Bloom

COLLEGE STATION - A new technology developed by Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) researchers will open access to billions of barrels of oil and natural gas and may alleviate the possibility of future fuel shortages. Each year more than 15 trillion cubic feet of stranded natural gas is burned, vented or re-injected into the ground because petroleum companies have no way of harvesting the remote gas and transporting it to market. A project between TEES, a member of The Texas A&M University System, and Synfuels International Inc. of Dallas has developed into a new gas-to-liquid technology and fully functional pilot plant for converting natural gas into a clean-burning liquid fuel that can be easily transported by pipeline or tanker. "One of the big problems in the oil and gas industry right now is that if you find oil, you usually find gas associated with it," said Dr. Kenneth Hall, the TEES chemical engineer who has led the development of the new technology. "In many regions, there is no way to recover this natural gas because of the lack of safe transport or existing pipelines. This new process will allow oil companies to utilize the natural gas from remote fields and convert it into transportable liquid." The liquids produced in the conversion can be used as a beneficial additive in refining operations or more simply refined into jet fuels, naptha, diesel or gasoline. Ben R. Weber, Jr., president of Synfuels International, said the gas-to-liquid fuel pilot plant his company has built using the technology developed by TEES researchers is more environmentally sound and less expensive to construct than existing plant designs because of its size and portability. Environmental regulations, which prevent venting or flaring of the natural gas and associated toxins into the atmosphere, pose challenging and expensive roadblocks to oil companies wanting to remove their oil from the ground. Oil producers must either re-inject the natural gas into the ground concurrently with the oil being produced (a costly and complex procedure) or abandon their reserves. Petroleum companies can construct the SynFuels plants almost anywhere, even on or near remote drilling sites. As a result, oil and natural gas can be drilled where it was previously impractical to produce. "Stranded natural gas reserves are stranded for a reason - a market for the natural gas does not exist or there is no infrastructure to get the gas to the market," Weber said. "Our plant converts natural gas and gets it to market as a liquid, which everyone can use in some capacity." Hall, who holds the Jack E. and Frances Brown Chair in Engineering at Texas A&M University, said the technology will enable U.S. petroleum companies to access numerous domestic resources for fuels and petrochemicals rather than rely so heavily on foreign imports. "Basically, it means that with this new technology, fuel supplies will be utilized at their utmost capacity with much less wasted energy," Hall said. CONTACTS: Ben. R. Weber, Jr. President, Synfuels International, Inc. (214) 855-8920 bweber@synfuels.com Synfuels International, Inc. - http://www.synfuels.com Terry Young Executive Director, Technology Licensing Office, The Texas A&M University System (979) 847-8682 t-young@tamu.edu Technology Licensing Office - http://tlo.tamu.edu/ 8/6/02 NR 1069

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