Natural gas might be the cleanest of all fossil fuels, but storing the explosive gas safely and efficiently is an ongoing challenge for energy companies.
Now, engineers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a method that converts natural gas into a non-explosive solid that can be easily stored and transported.
Fast, safe, and portable
Using a low-toxicity additive mixture formulated in-house, the researchers at NUS showed that they could convert natural gas into a safe solid state in only 15 minutes.
Led by Associate Professor Praveen Linga from NUS Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the team successfully converted natural gas into gas hydrates, or combustible ice, in the fastest time yet.
Previous attempts to speed up the conversion process relied on additives that were toxic for the personnel involved as well as for th environment. The new additive mixture formulated by the NUS researchers contains L-tryptophan, which is well known as an essential amino acid in the human diet.
"Our breakthrough can really be put into perspective when you consider that it takes millions and millions of years for gas hydrates to form in nature," Research Fellow Dr Gaurav Bhattacharjee, who worked on the project, explained in a press release.
"Yet with our correct addition of secret ingredients to the system in small quantities, the same process can be effected in the laboratory in a matter of minutes," he continued.
Immense volume reduction
The researchers' end-product is very stable and can be stored at -5 degree Celsius in an atmospheric pressure similar to that of a home freezer. Most impressively though, the natural gas is reduced in volume by close to 90 times.
The researchers are now working on scaling up their method for industrial use: "this is especially relevant to natural gas importing countries like Singapore, where 95 percent of electricity is generated using natural gas. The development of such gas storage technologies would help enhance the country’s energy security," Assoc Prof Linga explained.
By essentially reducing natural gas to solid cubes, the method could go a long way to securing a future where natural, clean energies are more readily accessible across the globe.