Methanol Sustainable Solution to Gas Flaring for Oil & Gas Industry

23 January 2024Plant, Sustainabilityautodesk, Autodesk Vault, energy, Inventor, leadership, oil & gas, Plant 3D, Process Plant

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As we pass by oil and gas refineries, the sight of flames rising from stacks is a common occurrence. These gas flares are essential for preventing methane from reaching the atmosphere. However, the drawback lies in the fact that flares still emit carbon dioxide. While methane is about 30 times more harmful than CO2, they are both still of concern, so finding a sustainable solution has been important. Fortunately, there are groundbreaking initiatives to convert methane into methanol as a transformative and eco-friendly approach for the oil and gas industry.

oil & gas flaring, methane to methanol

Challenge of Gas Flaring

The common practice of gas flaring – a 160-year-old practice – aims to burn off excess natural gas associated with oil extraction. Despite the intention to mitigate the impact of methane, according to the 2023 Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report, gas flares are not 100% efficient. At best 98% efficient, the effect resonates across the industry. In September 2022, BBC reported there are about 10,000 gas flare sites lit at any one time globally, reflecting the scale of the challenge faced in addressing methane emissions.

Innovative Partnership

A ray of hope emerges through an innovative partnership between the Autodesk Foundation and M2X, a company focused on leading the way to finding a sustainable solution. As described in an article in Autodesk Design & Make, M2X is actively working on a groundbreaking mobile method to convert methane into methanol – the simplest alcohol – eliminating undesirable byproducts associated with traditional gas flaring.


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methanol, oil & gas industry

Methanol’s Versatility

Methanol, the end product of this revolutionary process, holds immense potential across various industries. The Autodesk article highlights the versatility of methanol, which can be used in the production of plastics, plywood, adhesives, paint, solvents, antifreeze, agrichemicals, synthetic fibers, and even as a component of biodiesel. Furthermore, methanol is appealing as a fuel for marine vessels, showcasing its adaptability and relevance in a range of applications.

Research and Development

The Department of Energy has reported on other research taking place to convert methane to methanol. Esteemed laboratories such as Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stony Brook University are also playing leadership roles by actively contributing to this research. Notably, Oak Ridge National Laboratory published an article in June 2022 describing a novel approach using direct photo-oxidation combined with a solid catalyst (iron), drawing inspiration from the natural process of photosynthesis in plants. Research is also progressing at Stanford University, attempting to maximize the useful life of the iron zeolite crystals being used to convert methane to methanol.

photosynthesis, methanol, oil & gas industry

Trailblazing Efforts

Described in the Autodesk article, at the forefront of this transformative journey is M2X, which has developed a prototype mobile, trailer-mounted unit equipped with a combustion engine. This unit can be transported to remote oil and gas plants, helping eliminate the need for gas flares and converting methane into methanol onsite. The scalability, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of this process all combine to position it as a sustainable solution to the methane issue facing the oil and gas industry.

Innovative Design with Autodesk

M2X has been able to establish itself as a leader in this field through leveraging cutting-edge design tools like Autodesk Inventor and Vault to create its experimental units. And the leadership extends even further with optimism that this process could be useful beyond addressing the methane challenge. There is a potential for adaptation of the mobile unit design for applications involving other compounds like hydrogen and ammonia. This illustrates the versatility and broad applicability of this innovative solution beyond the oil and gas sector.

 

Converting methane to methanol serves as a source of optimism in the quest for sustainable processes in the oil and gas industry. The development of alternative procedures, coupled with advancements in research and development, promises a revolutionary approach to addressing methane emissions. As scalable and cost-effective solutions are pioneered, the prospect of transforming emissions into valuable resources opens new avenues for a more sustainable energy landscape.


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