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CANMET Group seeks value-added products from natural gas.

The Research Consortium on Natural Gas Conversion should help accelerate Canadian R&D on natural gas conversion technologies

The Canada Center for Mineral and Energy Technology, more commonly known as CANMET, is Canada's major center for Canada's minerals, metals and energy industries. Its role is to perform and sponsor predominantly commercial and cost-shared R&D and technology transfer in partnership with its clients.

CANMET's mandate is to:

* enhance the competitiveness Canada's minerals, metals and energy industries:

* improve and develop energy efficiency and alternative energy technologies;

* improve health safety and environmental control in client industries;

* support government policy initiatives.

Under the CANMET umbrella are five centres of expertise: Efficiency and Alternative Energy Technology Branch; Western Research Centre; Mineral Technology Branch; Policy, Planning and Services Branch; Energy Research Laboratories. This article will take a closer look at the latter, specifically its Research Consortium on Natural Gas Conversion.

The Energy Research Laboratories' (ERL) programs focus on improving the methods used to recover, process and use hydrocarbon fuels. Two other areas of special interest are improved energy conservation techniques and better end-use efficiency.

There are 80 scientists and 50 technologists on ERL's research staff. Since 1974, ERL scientists have been awarded 108 patents. ERL projects attract about $9 million annually in industrial investment through client-sponsored R&D, joint agreements and cost-shared projects. CANMET contributes more than $6 million annually to industry, provincial research organizations and Canadian universities. This is done through the Energy Conversion Program and Research Assistance Program.

ERL can also tailor model joint agreements for task-shared and cost-shared research. R&D consortia provide a means for clients to leverage limited funds while participating in high-risk/high-potential gain research.

ERL laboratories hold the newest pilot-scale equipment: hydrocracking plants; hydrotreaters; stirred tank reactors; gamma ray densitometers; atmospheric and vacuum distillation capability; fluidized bed combustors; a tunnel furnace; coke ovens. There is also an industrial biomass-fired boiler.

The chemical characterization and analytical facilities are among the most advanced in Canada. They have mass spectrometers, carbon-13 and proton NMR, scanning electron microscope and Auger surface analysis, gas-liquid and super-critical chromatography, Fourier transform spectroscopy, and porosimetry. ERL can also evaluate the performance of commercial and experimental fuels.

Energy and environment go hand in hand

Among ERL's areas of expertise are heavy oil and bitumen. In partnership with the oil companies, ERL researches processes for upgrading Canadian crude oils and bitumens and investigates upgrading reaction mechanisms. This includes primary and secondary upgrading as well as use of residue. For any of these projects, the term environmentally acceptable is a given.

Some oil related projects ERL has been involved with are:

* membrane separation of aromatic hydrocarbons from liquid fuels to reduce environmentally hazardous emissions;

* environmentally benign use of industrial sludge and municipal wastes as fuel;

* the development of new catalysts for production of high-quality synthetic crude

ERL also administers a program of contracted out R&D for extraction and recovery of oil and bitumen.

With the help of the electrical utilities, an ERL research program is studying combustion efficency for environmental gains. Clean fuel technologies being investigated include gasification of Canadian coals to generate electricity and circulating fluid-bed combustion of low-grade coals and wastes.

The results have been impressive. Products and processes have been developed for:

* increasing efficiency of residential oil and gas heating systems by 25% and 35% respectively;

* controlling [NO.sub.X] and [SO.sub.X] emissions from industrial boilers.

ERL is also active in the areas of integrated energy use and metallurgical fuels. The latter includes strengthening the competitiveness of Canadian coal for export.

Creating new marketing opportunities

ERL's Natural Gas Conversion program targets new competitive and environmentally sound processes for methane conversion. The processes hope to generate both domestic and export market opportunities. The program focuses ERL's expertise in catalysis on the conversion of natural gas to high-value products.

Much of Canada's natural gas will continue to find its way into direct energy use. However, there exists tremendous potential for it as a feed-stock for added value products. New direct natural gas conversion technologies can replace multi-stage conversion processes now being used.

The research is co-ordinated with the work of universities, private research organizations and private industry. ERL has worked or is now working with: Gaz Metropolitain to study the oxidative coupling of methane; Petro-Canada, conversion of methane over selected stock catalysts; University of Western Ontario, application of a pseudoadiabatic catalytic reactor to the conversion of synthesis gas into blending stocks; SNC, conceptual design and technology assessment of three electricity-based reactor processes for production of acetylene from natural gas; ARC, BC Research, preparation and evaluation of stable coupling catalysts.

The new methane to isobutylene (MTI) technology is one notable achievement. The two-step process has created an opportunity for industry to diversify feedstock sources for fuel additives and petrochemicals. Isobutylene is a strategic petrochemical with a strong future demand for MTBE synthesis.

ERL is working with an industrial partner to further develop the MTI process to bring it to commercialization.

Accelerating Canadian R&D

To accelerate Canadian R&D on other technologies for natural gas conversion, ERL has initiated the Research Consortium on Natural Gas Conversion. Its objective is to enhance the use of natural gas as a feedstock for the production of fuels, fuel additives and petrochemicals.

The consortium can accommodate eight partners. There are now four -- three natural gas producers and one natural gas utility. Each contributes $30,000 to the cost of the research. CANMET matches or exceeds the total contribution.

Headed by project leader Safaa Fouda, MCIC, the consortium's program focuses on the chemical activation of the methane molecule and its catalytic conversion to hydrocarbons and oxygenated organic species. Current projects include:

* the performance evaluation of a new reactor design for the production of ethylene to improve selectivity during the oxidative coupling of methane;

* high-pressure, partial oxidation of methane to produce methanol;

* the activation of methane by superacid catalysts under mild conditions to produce methanol and higher alkanes.

In the consortium, participants direct the research done by CANMET and review, modify and approve the work program. The participants receive royalty-free rights to use the technology developed, including inventions.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Chemical Institute of Canada
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Canada Centre for Mineral and Energy Technology
Author:Rodden, Graeme
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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