Researchers at Purdue University have developed a series of patents designed to convert natural gas from shale/tight formations to liquid fuels including gasoline and diesel using a two-step process.

Jeffrey Miller, a professor in the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, said a research team had devised a portfolio of technologies to overcome problems associated with current technology to convert unconventional gas to fuels as current processes are capital intensive and have high operating costs.

"It is important because the U.S. is sitting on this massive and secure energy supply and a potential of greater than about $25 billion per year market if a successful process can be commercialized," Miller said.

According to Miller, the Purdue team’s catalytic process requires less energy than the current process for oil refineries to convert the gas molecules to liquid fuels. The team also created an improved catalyst structure for both conversion processes.

"Another challenge in dealing with the light shale gas hydrocarbons is that they are typically located in areas of the U.S. that are far from heavily populated cities and expensive to transport," Miller said. "So, our higher molecular weight products are economically transported to existing refineries where they can be processed to transportation fuels."

The researchers worked with Purdue’s Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the process and collaborated with the Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources, a National Science Foundation (NSF) engineering research center.

Purdue in January said the NSF would provide $19.75 million in funding over five years to develop the gas technologies. Industrial and university partners provide additional funding and resources. Other schools working at the center are the University of New Mexico, Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin.