Fossil fuels are limited. It’s a problem we’ve dealt with for decades, resulting in new renewable technologies like solar, hydroelectric and wind power. But what if the United States had enough natural gas to provide transportation fuel for the next 100 years?
With around 264 billion barrels in untapped oil reserves, it does.
The problem, however, is how to access that oil. And once access has been gained, how can it affordably be refined into fuel?
More Time to Take Action
Fossil fuels are always going to be a finite resource. That won’t change, even if the U.S. can access all of its natural resources. But this 100-year supply does guarantee one thing — more time.
The threat of dwindling resources is one looming nearer and nearer, with scientists working around the clock to discover new ways forward. Some innovative ideas have already come to light, such as the idea of using artificial trees to mimic photosynthesis and generate clean fuels or producing energy from the temperature difference between areas of warm and cold water.
While many advancements have already taken place, we have a long way to go before we no longer need to rely on energy supplied by fuels like natural gas.
Fortunately, this stockpile of unused natural gas could give the United States more time to come up with a permanent solution.
Two Big Problems
The key to more time is gaining access to the reserves of natural gas. But right now, lack of money and resources stands in the way.
Typically, natural gas is extracted from shale through a well, which is then transported along a connected pipeline to the processing facility. As of 2014, a total of 1,585,329 miles of pipeline are carrying natural gas around the country. When a new pipeline is built, it can take a crew up to 18 months to complete the project.
The problem with this current method of extracting and processing natural gas is it requires significant start-up capital and has high operating costs.
Constructing a pipeline requires numerous workers who need to be paid. It can take years before you start extracting gas and making a profit. Transporting that gas to the processing facility — and maintaining the structural integrity of the pipeline — can also be costly.
With the average cost for just one mile of pipeline at $7.65 million, it’s not hard to see why lack of money and resources holds the United States back from reaching their untapped natural gas and extending the deadline on fossil fuels.
A New Way Forward
Luckily, researchers at Purdue say there’s a better way. They developed a new two-step catalytic process to convert natural gas into fuel, using less energy and providing a better quality product through improved catalyst structures.
One major issue oil refineries face is that shale molecules are much lighter than oil molecules, requiring a different production process. The new method solves this problem and also makes it more economical to transport gas from rural areas to heavily-populated cities.
The Next Step
While this new method for extracting and converting natural gas is an exciting development, it will still take some time before it can be adopted and utilized by the United States. Purdue researchers just recently patented their innovation with the help of the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization, continuing their vision of global advancements in sustainability.
In the meantime, it’s important to keep looking for and adapting new technologies to extend our use of fossil fuels while continuing to develop new ideas for renewable power.
Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes