Commercialising a New Gas Separation Technology

April 21, 2017

Dr. Kevin Li and Prof. Eric May pictured in the lab with their separation technology.

Dr. Kevin Li and Professor Eric May have been successful in securing close to $1 million in funding to commercialise their gas separation technology developed at UWA.  The project is in collaboration with Australian and local Perth company Oilfield Production Technologies and Chinese company DKT Energy Technologies.  The funding represents a significant step in commercialising the technology developed by Kevin, Eric and the ARC Centre for LNG Futures.

The three year project will build on and demonstrate gas separation technologies that have direct application to the development of unconventional gas sources such as coal seam gas (CSG), shale gas and landfill gas.  A difficultly in the development of these gas streams can be the high level of impurities such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

The separation of methane and nitrogen is challenging due to their similar physical and chemical properties.  In LNG production the cooling of nitrogen to enable separation from methane is a parasitic energy load.  This project seeks to further develop new and improved materials such as zeolites and Transition Metal Complexes to remove nitrogen from methane.

This project is one of the nine Global Innovation Linkage projects announced by Minister Sinodinos on 10th April 2017.  The total funding of $8.69 million is supporting Australian businesses and research institutions over the next four years to collaborate with global partners on strategically-focused, leading-edge research and development projects.

Borrowing from Nature

One example and a significant focus of the research is on molecules known as transition metal complexes (TMC).  TMCs are used by biological systems (as enzymes) to fix and transport nitrogen from air to produce amino acids.  The research aims to specially tailor TMC solvents to remove nitrogen from methane, ultimately for use in a gas processing facility.  This absorption-based process could provide improvements over and above existing technologies currently used in industry.  One of the major benefits being that the separation can be undertaken at ambient temperatures.

Methane Enrichment

In some circumstances the concentration of methane can be lower than the impurities, i.e. less than 50% purity. Thus, enriching or upgrading methane is the main task in the processing of such gas streams.   UWA have developed technology comprising a unique adsorbent (Ionic Liquidic Zeolite) as well as optimisation of an advanced separation process known as Dual Reflux Pressure Swing Adsorption (DR-PSA) to separate methane from nitrogen.  Initially funded by Chevron the technology was originally developed to recover methane from the nitrogen vent in an LNG plant.  This project aims to apply it to other unconventional gas sources and demonstrate it at a commercial scale.  Industry partner DKT Energy Technology is a leading company in methane recovery using adsorption technologies and has significant experience in demonstrating such processes.

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