Look out, oil.
A Silicon Valley start-up has claimed it's found a way to make half-price gasoline from natural gas instead of oil – a dream that's befuddled researchers and oil companies for decades, the MIT Technology Review reported Tuesday.
Emissions from producing and burning natural gas measure up to 25-percent lower than those for oil, researchers have found. And it's also much cheaper: About $20 for a barrel of natural gas, instead of around $100 for oil.
The challenge, however, has been converting natural gas into gasoline or other chemicals, like those used to make plastics. It's a complicated, expensive and inefficient process – Shell built a $19 billion gas-to-liquids plant in Qatar, the Technology Review said, but its output is low compared to oil refineries.
Siluria, however, said it has found a solution.
The company, which has raised more than $60 million in venture capital and works out of a pilot plant in Menlo Park, Calif., say it has developed catalysts that essentially convert natural gas into ethylene – just a step or two removed from gasoline, plastics, and other products. The firm's process, in short, skips right past the bottlenecks that have held-up the natural gas refining process since the 1980s. (Check out the Technology Review article for the details on how this apparently works.)
Siluria scientists have gotten the process to work in tests, the Technology Review said. What remains to be seen is whether it holds up on a commercial scale.