Siluria Technologies is working on an energy efficient and cleaner process to convert natural gas into ethylene Siluria has not yet demonstrated its method beyond the laboratory, but the company hopes to open a pilot plant in 2012 or 2013.
Ethylene is the largest global commodity chemical, with 140 million tons used annually in an industry worth $160 billion per year. Today, ethylene is produced via steam cracking, a mature technology that consumes more energy than any other chemical process, uses valuable oil resources, and is the largest contributor to greenhouse emissions in the chemical industry.
Their goal is to convert methane, the principal component of natural gas, directly into ethylene, the fundamental building block of the chemical industry. Ethylene and its derivatives, such as polyethylene, are in thousands of everyday products, including tires, medical devices, cosmetics, food packaging, anti-freeze, paints, appliances, and liquid crystal displays
“Siluria’s process will, when successfully implemented, save industry tens of billions of dollars per year in raw material and operation costs,” notes Clint Bybee, co-founder and managing director, ARCH Venture Partners. “This innovation also has the potential to create thousands of new domestic jobs.”
Siluria’s catalyst synthesis technology is based on the innovative discoveries of MIT Professor and Siluria founder, Dr. Angela Belcher. Dr. Belcher’s synthetic technology produces inorganic materials in the same way nature makes them: with a bottom-up, versus a conventional, top-down synthetic approach. Siluria’s technology application is to grow nanowire catalysts with unique surfaces, structures and shapes. This synthetic approach offers improved ways to manipulate catalyst surfaces. Novel surfaces have the potential for improving catalyst performance in structure-sensitive reactions.
Sasol, a South African company that produces diesel fuel and naphtha from coal, is considering building a similar plant to take advantage of the natural gas fields of Canada. Sasol’s process is a refinement of one developed in the 1930s, called Fischer-Tropsch. It produces 80 percent diesel, 15 percent naphtha (a chemical feedstock) and 5 percent propane, with little ability to vary the output. The final fuel products in Sasol’s process have only about 62 percent as much energy as the methane did. Sasol is already operating its conversion process at industrial scale.
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