Engineers Developed A Method To Convert Natural Gas Into A Solid

Engineers at the National University of Singapore have developed a new method of converting natural gas into a solid form that allows it to be stored and transported more easily and safely. Converting the material from a gas into a solid requires only 15 minutes and uses a low-toxicity mixture. The new conversion method is a big deal because while many countries around the world are pushing to eliminate fossil fuels, natural gas is still heavily used in most of the world.

Natural gas is often converted into a liquid to make it easier to work with, but the conversion process requires extremely cold temperatures of around -260 degrees Fahrenheit. The new method converts the gas into a solid, and researchers point out that nature already converts the gas to a solid under certain conditions. Molecules of natural gas can become trapped in "cages" of water molecules forming gas hydrates or combustible ice.

However, that process can takes millions of years to happen in nature. Researchers have sped up the process claiming the fastest conversion time on record. The key to the breakthrough is an amino acid called L-tryptophan that speeds up the reaction rate and traps more gas into solid hydrates more quickly. The entire process takes 15 minutes, more than twice as fast as the current standard.

The resulting solid is more convenient and safer to store and transport. As a block of ice, the gas is shrunken in volume by 90 times, is non-explosive, and stable enough to be stored in a regular freezer at 23 degrees Fahrenheit. The method also requires less toxic additives than usual.

The process has only been tested in the lab, but the team intends to try a pilot-scale experiment to convert around 220 pounds of gas per day. Eventually, the team hopes to scale the process up for industrial use.