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Energy Resource Processing

CSIRO’s Gas Processing and Conversion research program is developing technologies to efficiently and economically utilise Australia’s abundant natural gas reserves.

Natural gas: the fuel for the future

Australia has a rich endowment of natural gas, most of which is located in deep waters offshore or as coal seam gas. By its nature, gas is difficult and expensive to transport over long distances. To best utilise this resource, CSIRO is looking at a variety of ways to liquefy or transform natural gas into a transportable liquid product.

Natural gas can be cooled to form Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) or chemically converted to transport fuels such as gasoline and diesel, and chemicals. Processes that convert natural gas to liquid fuels are known as Gas-to-Liquids or GTL processes.

CSIRO is developing GTL technologies to more cost effectively develop cleaner fuels and chemical processes using Australia’s abundant natural gas resources. These GTL technologies provide the nation’s energy sector with the opportunity to fully utilise Australia’s hydrocarbon resources, enhancing our sustainability and security in energy whilst helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Gas-to-Liquid: fuel for the future

CSIRO Gas Processing and Conversion research

CSIRO is taking a multifaceted approach, creating more efficient processes to generate synthetic fuels (synfuels) and other substances from non-oil or non-conventional feedstocks while minimising the environmental impact of GTL processes.

The objectives of CSIRO’s Gas Processing research program are to:

  • increase fuel security and independence by using abundant local gas feedstocks to generate transport fuels and chemicals
  • develop methods to economically purify gas reserves
  • make the conversion of natural gas to synthetic fuels and chemicals more economically feasible by developing processes which reduce plant size and cost and by using novel technologies
  • contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Benefits of Gas-to-Liquids research

CSIRO’s research efforts are facilitating the transfer of Australia’s energy supply towards cleaner synthetic fuels by making Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) processes more efficient, environmentally friendly and less costly.

The development of optimised GTL processes, which reduce operating costs and require smaller plant footprints, will make remote and offshore gas processing less expensive and potentially more mobile. This will facilitate better utilisation of Australia’s natural gas reserves and enable access to remote and stranded gas resources, improving our energy self-sufficiency.

The diversity and compatibility of synfuels mean that they can be used in existing engines with the current distribution infrastructure. GTL processes are also adaptable to coal and biomass (CTL, BTL) feedstocks.

Synthetic fuels additionally have a number of benefits including the ability to be produced to ‘cleaner’ specifications, with lower contents of sulphur and nitrogen oxides that contribute to a range of environmental pollutants including smog, acid rain and ground level ozone.

In an engine, these fuels demonstrate equal or superior performance compared to oil-derived fuels and can be used in a pure form or as a high quality blending component for conventional fuels.

Other high value by-products, such as very high quality synthetic lubricating oils and chemical feedstocks (including oxygenates such as alcohols) are valuable by-products of the GTL process.

The technologies being developed by CSIRO for GTL processing will provide a bridge between our existing and future energy needs.

Project – Producing synthetic fuels

Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) processes are chemical processes typically involving two steps: production of synthesis gas (syngas), a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, followed by conversion of synthesis gas to liquid products (Fischer Tropsch synthesis).

The research team is investigating ways to improve the efficiency of synthetic fuel production via this traditional two-step route in a large-scale research facility at the CSIRO Earth Science and Resource Engineering Division’s site in Perth, Western Australia.

The state-of-the-art GTL facility is the first GTL research facility in Australia with the capability of running unmanned around the clock for months at a time. The facility will help build the capability of GTL research and improve GTL processes as well as provide a training ground for Australia’s gas processing industry.

Current activities

The Gas Processing and Conversion team is currently examining ways to modify and improve the Fischer-Tropsch processes to chemically transform natural gas into transportable liquid fuels.

CSIRO is examining:

  • catalysis design to make the Fischer-Tropsch process more efficient
  • reactor design to improve heat removal and facilitate efficient mixing
  • process optimisation.

This research is being conducted at CSIRO’s Gas processing and conversion.

Research outcomes

CSIRO’s work in developing new and efficient ways to produce synfuels will result in:

  • reduced energy demands of GTL processes
  • higher conversion to desired synfuel products, resulting in fewer undesired products
  • improved commercial viability of GTL processes by reducing operating and capital investment costs.

For more information contact Valerie Sage.

Project – Unconventional routes to synthetic fuels

Synthetic fuels are traditionally produced by converting the hydrocarbon source to syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and subsequent processing of the syngas using catalysts to produce a liquid fuel.

CSIRO is investigating alternative routes in Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) processes, in order to produce smaller footprint plants and create processes that are less energy and carbon intensive.

Current activities

The CSIRO Gas Conversion and Processing team is examining the use of high temperature (pyrolysis) processes to facilitate the production of synthetic fuels. These processes directly convert methane (the largest component of natural gas) to liquid fuels. This direct conversion has the potential to simplify the synthetic fuel production process by eliminating the complications of syngas production and subsequent processing and hence reduce the size and complexity of synthetic fuel plants.

CSIRO is investigating novel routes to convert natural gas into liquid fuels, leading to smaller and less complex synthetic fuel plants.

Our aim is to establish the technical and economic feasibility of these non syngas routes to liquid fuels.

Research outcomes

Processes which convert natural gas to liquid fuels without syngas as an intermediate have the advantage of avoiding the costs associated with producing syngas, potentially resulting in smaller, less energy intensive plants and lower capital expenditure.
For more information contact Jim Patel.

Project – Hydrogen and synthetic fuel production

Hydrogen is required in many oil, fuel and chemical processes and can also be used in place of conventional fuels in devices such as fuel cells. Hydrogen is also an important component used in Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) processing.

The production of hydrogen on an industrial scale is typically done by reforming of natural gas. This is an energy intensive process that uses large plant equipment. It is uneconomical to run in small-scale operations and thus is not used remotely or off-shore.

CSIRO is developing a technology alternative that could produce hydrogen on a smaller scale and at a lower cost than the currently available reforming technology.

Hydrogen production

These technologies enable high purity, cost-effective hydrogen to be produced at small-scale facilities with low greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydrogen is commonly produced from hydrocarbon fossil fuels via a catalytic process.

Steam reforming or catalytic oxidation are the dominant methods for producing commercial bulk hydrogen from hydrocarbons on an industrial scale. An alternative to these is the chemical looping process, involving sequential reduction and oxidation (redox) of carrier materials (usually metal oxides).

During this process the carrier material acts as a transporter of oxygen where the oxygen is supplied in the oxidation stage of the process and removed in the reduction stage. When the carrier material is oxidised with steam, hydrogen gas is produced. The effluent gas usually contains concentrated carbon dioxide and can be easily captured for carbon sequestration.

Under certain conditions, the reaction can also yield useful hydrocarbon by-products that are suitable as fuel additives and chemical intermediates for other chemical processes.

Current activities

CSIRO is developing new routes via redox processes to produce pure hydrogen from natural gas.

The research team is developing oxygen carriers with improved cyclic reactivity and thermal stability under various reactive atmospheres to yield high purity hydrogen gas.

This system of hydrogen production has the potential to be less energy intensive and could be operated on small or large scales.

The potential of producing of higher hydrocarbons is also seen as a means to upgrade the energy value of the products to be used as alternative fuels.

Research outcomes

These technologies create an opportunity to produce high purity hydrogen more cost-effectively at remotely located small-scale facilities.

There is also an opportunity to develop a greenhouse gas neutral process.

The benefits of this research are:

  • concentrated hydrogen supply for fuel cell and hydrogen economy applications
  • supply of hydrogen to remote and small scale applications
  • opportunity to commercialise stranded reserves of natural gas
  • development of a potentially greenhouse gas neutral process for hydrogen manufacture
  • production of light hydrocarbons to be used as fuels, fuel additives or chemicals
  • no separation of oxygen required eliminating the need for an expensive oxygen plant.

For more information contact Ken Chiang.

Project – Improved Liquefied Natural Gas production

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) production involves cooling natural gas to temperatures where the gas becomes a liquid, taking up 600 times less space than the corresponding gas. In its liquefied form, natural gas can be more easily stored or transported by ship to worldwide markets.

CSIRO is investigating technologies to improve the process of liquefying natural gas and to deliver higher value LNG.

LNG production

Natural gas is a complex mixture of chemicals with different chemical and physical properties. Natural gas undergoes a series of purification steps prior to liquefaction and transportation. The gas is cooled and certain compounds known as Natural Gas Liquids or NGLs that condense or solidify are removed throughout the cooling process. These compounds can cause blockages in the LNG production equipment and lead to plant operational problems. Their presence also reduces the purity of the liquid gas and can mean that the LNG falls short of customer specifications.

CSIRO is developing physical and chemical technologies to benefit LNG plant operation and deliver a higher value LNG product.

Existing technologies are not able to remove all NGLs. Consequently, routine shutdowns of plant equipment for cleaning and adjustments of gas composition either prior to or post shipping are required.

Current activities

CSIRO is currently investigating how to improve the various physical and chemical techniques used in LNG processing to separate and remove NGLs prior to liquefaction of natural gas. This will benefit LNG plant operation and deliver a higher purity LNG client product.

Research outcomes

Outcomes of CSIRO’s research in LNG include benefits for industry such as:

  • fewer operational issues in the production of LNG
  • reduced time spent on plant maintenance
  • higher value end LNG product which meets “on-spec” delivered product
  • reduced equipment costs
  • development of equipment that is easier to install and operate
  • potential discovery of applications for other chemical separation processes used in industry.

For more information contact Nick Burke.