Chasing the Dream of Half-Price Gasoline from Natural Gas

Over the past decade, the petroleum industry has developed new techniques for extracting natural gas from rock through processes known as fracking and horizontal drilling. Basically, gas and oil that is trapped in layers of rock below the water table have been inaccessible to oil companies until recently. The oil companies now can drill vertically and then horizontally into rock, making an L shape drilling path from the surface to the rock below. What flows from these paths is natural gas, not oil (although some oil can be extracted through this method). But now a California company is working on a process could allow natural gas (largely used for heating our homes) into gasoline (to power cars, trucks and so on):

At a pilot plant in Menlo Park, California, a technician pours white pellets into a steel tube and then taps it with a wrench to make sure they settle together. He closes the tube, and oxygen and methane—the main ingredient of natural gas—flow in. Seconds later, water and ethylene, the world’s largest commodity chemical, flow out. Another simple step converts the ethylene into gasoline . . . f Siluria really can make cheap gasoline from natural gas it will have achieved something that has eluded the world’s top chemists and oil and gas companies for decades. Indeed, finding an inexpensive and direct way to upgrade natural gas into more valuable and useful chemicals and fuels could finally mean a cheap replacement for petroleum.

If this process is successful, gas prices could come down. Way down, and stay down, which might mean that alternative fuels like battery power and CNG might be less attractive to consumers looking to save money when fueling their cars.

Of course, there’s a downside here. More fossil fuels burned means that more emissions go into the atmosphere, which may be contributing to global warming. So for environmentalists, this might be seen as a step backwards rather than a step forwards when it comes to transforming the ways we power vehicles in the 21st century. Fracking too, has come under fire from green activists, so a breakthrough here would certainly mean more fracking.

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/523146/chasing-the-dream-of-half-price-gasoline-from-natural-gas/

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