Unconventional Hydrocarbons

Reducing transport sector GHG emissions with natural-gas based fuels: the case for Small Scale Methanol Production at Shale Gas Well Sites

Recognizing the game-changing nature of unconventional natural gas development in the United States, this research investigates novel approaches to use of natural gas as a fuel in the domestic transport sector. Motivated by reducing dependence on foreign energy sources, increasing efficiency, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this research specifically looks at the case for small-scale methanol production at shale-gas well sites. This work aims to understand in tandem, the possibility for methane leakage throughout the natural gas system and the impact that on-site production can have on reducing or eliminating a significant portion of the fugitive methane leakage within the transmission and distribution sections of the natural gas system.

Thus far, research has focused on two areas within the unconventional natural gas problem. First, understanding the life-cycle GHG emissions associated with all parts of the natural gas system, with special attention paid to fugitive methane emissions, and the relative emissions from various natural gas based transport fuels (CNG, LNG, Methanol) as compared to their petroleum-based equivalents.

Second, studying the unique potential for small-scale methanol production to play a role in reducing the GHG emissions from the domestic passenger vehicle fleet. Methanol will not require a significant change to fueling infrastructure, and at high percentages, natural-gas based engines can take advantage of increased thermal efficiency from higher engine compression ratios and fuel burn characteristics. The combination of small-scale methanol production and high efficiency engines may play a role at improving the future landscape of domestic transportation fuels, and contribute to reducing GHG emissions within the domestic transport sector.

Josh Browne, PhD student, jbb2143@columbia.edu
Klaus Lackner, Ewing-Worzel Professor of Geophysics, klaus.lackner@columbia.edu (PI)
Raghubir Gupta, Senior Research Director, Center for Energy Technology at RTI International, gupta@rti.org