PITTSBURGH, PA - America has plentiful supplies of
natural gas, but as much as one-third of all U.S. gas reserves are substandard
- that is, the gas contains too many impurities to be piped directly into
homes and industries. Some gas supplies are trapped in remote regions
far away from gas pipelines. Other gas resources often go undetected in
isolated sections of a reservoir and are frequently abandoned.
With America's demand for natural gas likely to expand by as much as
60 percent over the next 20 years, tomorrow's gas producers will need
new, more effective ways to upgrade substandard gas and to tap gas currently
beyond their reach because of geologic or geographic obstacles.
The Department of Energy's Fossil Energy program is supporting research
projects in these areas and this week is adding six new joint government-industry
projects, totaling $7.7 million, to its natural gas portfolio.
Four of the projects focus on advanced concepts for processing natural
gas - either removing pollutant-forming impurities or developing ways
to create or transport liquid fuels that can be made from natural gas.
The other two projects will develop high-tech tools that gas producers
can use in the future to locate and extract gas from reservoirs that are
too geologically complex or expensive to produce with today's technology.
The department's Strategic
Center for Natural Gas, part of its National Energy Technology Laboratory,
will oversee the new projects.
Area of Interest: Natural Gas Processing
Research in this area has become increasingly important in light of a
new study released this spring by the Gas Technology Institute (GTI).
The study estimated that one-third of all U.S. natural gas reserves are
below the quality standard necessary for most commercial uses. GTI found
that of the nation's 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, nearly 61
trillion cubic feet is low-quality gas. The study also estimates that
of the 1,690 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered gas in the country, 496
trillion cubic feet could be substandard.
To tackle the need for improved gas upgrading technology, the Energy
Project cost: $1.9 million; proposed DOE award: $858,420;
participant share: $1.04 million
Project duration: 30 months.
The other two natural gas processing projects will deal with gas-to-liquids
technology. The projects could improve prospects for tapping the vast
natural gas resources in Alaska's far North Slope. Currently this gas
is not marketed because of the lack of gas pipelines. Converting the gas
into liquid form would offer a way to ship it to market via the Trans-Alaska
- TDA Research Inc., Wheat Ridge, CO, will develop a more efficient,
lower-cost method of reforming natural gas - i.e., chemically breaking
apart the gas molecule typically in the presence of steam - to create
hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be further
converted into liquid fuels, such as methanol, and into high-value chemicals.
Reforming is the most expensive step in producing liquids from natural
gas, and if costs can be reduced, processes for converting Alaska's
North Slope gas to liquid fuels could become much more attractive.
Project cost: $153,514; proposed DOE award: $99,989;
participant share: $53,525
Project duration: 6 months.
- University of Alaska at Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, will study
how to best transport gas converted into a liquid through the existing
Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). The university will analyze the
fluid properties of gas to liquids, crude oil and their blends under
various operating conditions. One area of particular interest to the
University researchers will be the affect different types of fuel blends
might have on restarting the flow of oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline,
should the pipeline need to be shut down for prolonged repairs during
Project cost: $799,749; proposed DOE share: $604,733;
participant share: $195,016
Project duration: 36 months.
Area of Interest: Gas Exploration, Production & Storage
With the nation's demand for natural gas steadily increasing, the easiest-to-produce
reservoirs in the United States are rapidly being tapped. Within the next
10 to 20 years, producers will have to turn extensively to gas-bearing
formations that are much more geologically complex and difficult to produce.
To help develop the tools that will be needed for these reservoirs, the
department has selected:
Novatek Engineering, Inc., Provo, UT, which proposes
to develop a high-speed method of transmitting data from the bottom
of a wellbore to operators on the surface through the drill string
- i.e., the drill pipe and casing. The objective is to achieve data
rates that approach or exceed computer modem speeds. One of the technical
hurdles will be to develop an effective way to transmit data across
the threaded joints between individual sections of a drill pipe.
Project cost: $1.293 million; proposed DOE award: $600,000;
participant share: $692,919
Project duration: 12 months.
Paulsson Geophysical Services, Inc., LaHabra, CA,
which hopes to resolve one of the primary impediments to obtaining
high resolution, 3-dimensional images of deep and complex gas reservoirs
- namely the lack of acquisition technology needed to record the large
volumes seismic data needed to do 3-D imaging. The company will focus
on developing an advanced seismic receiver that can handle the high
volumes of data.
Project cost: $2 million; proposed DOE award: $1 million;
participant share: $1 million
Project duration: 24 months.