A Cheaper, Safer Way to Move Natural Gas

A new transport method involving ice crystals could make it practical to get natural gas from remote areas, with no worries about explosions.

Power snow: A five-centimeter-wide nozzle head (top) sprays out a mixture of methane and water that forms snow-like methane hydrate.

Storing and shipping natural gas by trapping it in ice–using technology being developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy–could cut shipping costs for the fuel, making it easier for countries to buy natural gas from many different sources, and eventually leading to more stable supplies worldwide.

The DOE researchers say the approach could also be safer than current methods of shipping natural gas, such as cooling it to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG), since there is no danger that iced natural gas will explode if the shipping container is damaged.

The technology traps natural gas in the form of methane hydrate, in which methane, the main component of natural gas, is confined within cage-like ice crystals. Conventional technologies for making methane hydrate take hours or days: they involve mixing water and the hydrocarbon in large pressurized vessels. The new approach forces water and methane through a specially designed nozzle that creates the methane hydrate “almost instantaneously,” says Charles Taylor, the lead researcher on the project at the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh. As the mixture exits the nozzle, it quickly forms hydrate, which looks like snow.

The challenge, Taylor says, was designing the nozzle to create precisely the right conditions for forming the methane hydrate immediately after the mixture of water and methane exits the nozzle. If the hydrate forms too soon, it clogs the nozzle. Although the approach has only been demonstrated at a small scale, it could prove cheaper than existing transportation methods, he says.

Read more here Technology Review: A Cheaper, Safer Way to Move Natural Gas.

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