Green Gas Derived From Natural Gas Offers Lower Carbon Footprint

Shortly after our June “Green Issue” dropped, an enthusiast reader wrote to us to say we missed a key alternative fuel technology from Houston-based Nacero: green gasoline constructed from renewable natural gas using renewable energy. He’s counting on this miracle fuel to feed his beloved pony car well into the forecast electric future. Sure enough, Nacero’s “green gasoline” products appear quite promising.

These fuels aren’t carbon-free, but their carbon footprint is claimed to be at least half that of petroleum-refined gasoline. And they’re naturally free of sulfur, which degrades catalytic converter effectiveness and contributes to ground-level ozone.

Nacero’s process builds the complex hydrocarbon chains that constitute its gasoline (typically comprising five to 12 carbon atoms) by assembling smaller CH4 methane molecules from natural gas. By contrast, crude oil is composed of long, complicated hydrocarbon chains and myriad impurities like sulfur that must be deconstructed and “refined” to make gasoline. And although gasoline is the high-value output, refiners must do something with all the heavier, dirtier hydrocarbons, which end up getting burned as bunker oil for shipping and power generation, etc. The refining process itself involves a significant carbon footprint, as do drilling, pumping, and transporting the crude oil.

By locating its first plant in Penwell, Texas, in the heart of oil country, Nacero plans to tap the methane that might otherwise be flared at nearby oil fields and refineries as its feedstock. If it would have been flared anyway, burning it as gasoline creates no new CO2. By tapping the methane emissions from municipal landfills, decomposing animal waste, etc., the natural gas can be considered renewable.

Nacero has licensed TIGAS technology from Denmark’s Haldor Topsoe to convert natural gas to gasoline through a series of catalytic reactions that first produce methanol and then upconvert it to gasoline via a proprietary process involving just a few steps. The methane-to-methanol step involves superheating to produce syngas (a brew of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen). The energy required for this step will come from a huge onsite photovoltaic solar energy farm. Once the methane is cracked, the waste heat is used to generate steam to drive compressors and pumps (it’s involved in a subsequent steam-reformation step in the process).

Upconverting methanol generates CO2, which Nacero will capture and pump into a CO2 pipeline running along the Penwell plant’s property line. This CO2 gets pumped into low-producing oil wells to bolster their production, thereby sequestering it.

Adjusting the last few stages of the process can alter properties such as the octane rating and volatility (to suit summer, winter, or high-altitude usage). After the typical additives go in, Nacero gasoline is chemically and functionally indistinguishable from anyone else’s, save for the lack of sulfur and other impurities that occur naturally in crude oil.

By only paying $15-$18 gasoline-equivalent per barrel for its natural-gas feedstock—about 75-80 percent less than the going rate for crude oil—Nacero is confident its gasoline can compete with crude-based gasoline on price. Factoring in applicable state and federal incentives for renewable fuels and the public’s likely willingness to pay a little more to lower its personal carbon footprint only sweetens the business plan. And the technology is already proving itself out in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where Turkmengaz just opened a similar TIGAS operation last year.

Construction on the Penwell plant begins later this year with a goal of producing 70,000 barrels per day within four years, increasing to 100,000-120,000 barrels a few years later. Regional distribution via pipeline further minimizes the carbon footprint, with the southwest and Colorado targeted initially. Nacero plans for additional facilities near the gas-rich Marcellus shale formations in Pennsylvania, and in Kingman, Arizona. The company eventually hopes to open its own retail stations in these regions, marketing its Blue and Green gasoline products, with the latter connoting the highest percentage of renewable natural gas.

Reader Marc, here’s hoping this “green gasoline” keeps your Shelby GT350 running for decades to come!

Read More Columns by Frank Markus:

  • How Gasoline Engines Can Survive in an Electric Car Future
  • How Artificial Intelligence Is Cutting Wait Time at Red Lights
  • Are Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Finally—Finally!—Ready For Prime Time?
  • How Your iPhone May Hasten Autonomous Driving
  • Cylinder-Deactivation Tech Is Coming to Electric Motors (Really!)

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