New natural gas catalyst would boost clean transportation
 

April 30, 2018. Thanks to advances in drilling technology, there is enough natural gas in the U.S. to last well into next century and beyond. This has renewed the idea of using inexpensive, domestically produced natural gas as a transportation fuel.

   Primarily made up of methane, natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline or diesel when it comes to hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides, but the undesired “slip” of unreacted methane can reduce that advantage because methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

   The U.S. Department of Energy has chosen a team led by a chemical engineer from the University of Houston for a $2 million project to develop and optimize a lower-cost, more efficient catalyst to eliminate unreacted methane.

   Michael Harold, chairman of the UH Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will work with Lars Grabow, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH, and researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Virginia and CDTi Inc., an emissions technology company based in Oxnard, Calif.

   Natural gas combustion produces far less carbon dioxide than gasoline or diesel combustion.  Methane – the primary component of natural gas – wasn’t considered a concern until recently, partly because it hasn’t been associated with the health risks linked to carbon dioxide. But it is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, making an effective catalyst crucial for wider adoption of natural gas vehicles.

   Harold, an expert in catalytic reaction engineering, said the team will focus on the so-called “four-way catalyst,” building on the three-way catalysts used with gasoline and diesel engines. Those simultaneously convert nonmethane hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. The new catalyst will also convert methane.