Natural Gas Upgrade

Methane (CH4) is the simplest hydrocarbon and is readily available. CH4 constitutes approximately 75% of natural gas by volume, and according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy in 2015, there is an estimated 187.1 x 1012 m3 of natural gas reserves. The evolution of the extraction of natural gas from shale rock formations has allowed access to huge quantities of natural gas from previously impermeable and impractical sources. In addition, other sources of methane include fossil fuel production and combustion, which is responsible for at least 33% of human methane emissions; biogas from anaerobic digestion of crops; and the decomposition of biodegradable solid waste from landfills.


While methane is a readily available resource, the direct transformation of methane into useful chemicals is limited. Presently, less than 10% of natural gas is used as a chemical feedstock. One of the biggest reasons natural gas is often flared rather than converted is because the mass and energy density (0.7-0.9 kg/m3 and 30-40 MJ/m3, respectively) of natural gas are approximately three orders of magnitude lower than that of oil (0.7-0.9 kg/dm3 and 30-40 MJ/m3, respectively), which makes transportation more expensive. Profitable conversion of natural gas into useful chemicals would justify the high transportation costs, but presently, only methane conversion to synthesis gas, hydrogen cyanide, acetylene, and chlorinated methane has been realized industrially. Our research group is focused on discovering novel methods and catalysts to utilize and upgrade this abundant and untapped resource to more useful chemicals.

Related references:

  1. H. V. Tran, H. A. Doan, B. D. Chandler, L. C. Grabow, "Water-assisted oxygen activation during selective oxidation reactions", Curr. Opin. Chem. Eng. accepted, 2016

  2. B. Baek, A. Aboiralor, J. D. Massa, S. Wang, P. Kharidehal, L. C. Grabow, "Strategy to Improve Catalytic Trend Predictions for Methane Oxidation and Reforming", AIChE J, 2016