Diesel made from natural gas may one day be powering cars and trucks in the United States.
The United States is literally drowning in natural gas from reserves such as those in Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and other states. Natural gas has recently been found in incredible quantities in shale rock deep below the surface. Shale gas is transforming the future of energy in the United States even as the oil and gas industry is mired in controversy due to the large BP oil spill. Shale gas is easy to produce, thanks to a new technology called directional drilling, and we have many decades of supply. Some experts have even estimated that we have over 100 years supply of natural gas.
So what can we do with all of this natural gas? For one we can use it to decrease our reliance on oil as fuel for our cars. Natural gas can be used to power cars and trucks (gas and diesel) in one of two ways. The first is called CNG or compressed natural gas. Almost any vehicle, from car to truck can be converted to run on CNG. The main problem with CNG, and it is a minor one in the scheme of things, is that there are not that many CNG filling stations and cars must give up trunk space to large compressed gas cylinders.
Another technology, which has been around literally for decades, but has been improved in recent years, is called Gas to Liquids.
It offers all the advantages of using natural gas, including reduced emissions, but in a different way. In this process natural gas is turned in to liquid fuels such as diesel and gasoline with the gas to liquids process which uses a series of different reactors to alter the hydrocarbon chain of natural gas and turn it into a liquid. Diesel made from natural gas has almost no sulfur pollutants and burns with fewer carbon emissions. Gasoline can also be made from natural gas using a process known as Fischer Tropsch which converts natural gas in to liquid fuel. Below is an illustration showing the Fischer Tropsch process:
A leader in the field is Shell Oil, which is in the process of building a major facility in Quatar in the Middle East. The Pearl GTL facility now has over 40,000 workers occupied building the largest plant of its kind. It will be able to turn out thousands of barrels of diesel and kerosene made from natural gas.
In the video below a Shell representative talks about the massive gas to liquids refinery in Quatar. You can see from this video the massive scale of the world’s largest gas to liquids plant which will make diesel and other liquids from natural gas.
The question is, why are similar plants not being built in the United States to make gasoline and diesel from abundant natural gas right here on our shores?
For more on shale gas reserves, such as the Eagle Ford shale in Texas see: Eagle Ford Shale Blog