A new modular process based on microwave-plasma reactors aims to efficiently convert natural gas into acetylene and H2 without combustion or CO2 formation. Transform Materials LLC (Riviera Beach, Fla.; www.transformmaterials.com) has designed a reactor that overcomes some of the previous limitations of microwave-plasma-based methane processing, such as low single-pass conversion and low selectivity. “Our technology is singularly high in both conversion and selectivity. In addition, our process consumes approximately an order of magnitude less energy to process a fixed amount of methane,” explains David Soane, Transform Materials CEO. Furthermore, the high single-pass conversion rates allow for a more compact reactor and overall simpler operations. “High-selectivity transformation into the desired coproducts of acetylene and hydrogen means that the requisite downstream separation process is straightforward,” says Soane. He adds that the company has also made significant breakthroughs in removing minor amounts of byproduct impurities from the reactor effluent. “Our compact system favors distributed manufacturing. Future commercial plants can be installed where the natural gas feed exists and where there is local demand for the products,” he continues.
The company has operated a fully integrated dual-reactor pilot plant with two 30-kW reactors, as well as a single-reactor 100-kW front-end demonstration system. Soane expects that future commercial installations will see multiplexing of 100-kW reactors coupled with appropriately sized back-end separation and purification units. The technology’s modular nature means that plant capacity can be incrementally increased as demand rises. Transform Materials recently signed a technology-license agreement with Royal DSM N.V. (Heerlen, the Netherlands; www.dsm.com) that will enable DSM’s Nutritional Products business to use biogas feedstock to make key ingredients. Transform Materials is also in talks with chemical manufacturers and other potential industry partners for further commercialization of its technology.