The NUS team invents a ‘fast and safe’ way to convert natural gas into solid form, says the method can increase energy security

SINGAPORE: A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a new blend that can convert natural gas into solid form within 15 minutes, making it easier to transport the gas in a “fast and safe” way and to to hit.

This could “improve” Singapore’s long-term energy security, the university said.

Singapore is largely dependent on natural gas – considered the least polluting fossil fuel – for its energy needs.

Currently, ways to store natural gas include liquefying it at about -160 degrees Celsius or compressing it to nearly 250 times atmospheric pressure, NUS said, pointing out that it can be challenging to store the gas safely and affordably .

It added that these approaches don’t work on a large scale because they are either expensive or not that safe to store for long periods of time.

To address the challenges, the NUS team has formulated a “new low-toxicity additive blend” that accelerates the conversion of natural gas into a non-explosive solid form, the university said in a press release.

“The conversion can be completed in just 15 minutes – the fastest time yet,” he added.

Led by associate professor Praveen Linga of the NUS Faculty of Engineering Sciences, researchers are now striving to convert larger amounts of gas into smaller amounts of solids on a pilot scale of 100 kg per day.

If successful, it will enable commercial acceptance of the solidified natural gas technology and create a solid that is stable to store at atmospheric pressure, NUS said. Researchers hope to eventually scale it up for industrial use.

“This is especially relevant for natural gas importing countries such as Singapore, where 95 percent of electricity is generated from natural gas,” said Assoc Prof Linga, who is from the chemical and biomolecular engineering department.

“The development of such gas storage technologies would help improve the country’s energy security.”

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Traditionally, most of Singapore’s natural gas supply is supplied in gaseous form through pipelines from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Since May 2013, Singapore has been importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to diversify and secure its energy sources. The country’s LNG terminal currently has four storage tanks that can hold 800,000 cubic meters of LNG.

“Our breakthrough can really be put into perspective when you consider that it takes millions and millions of years for gas hydrates to form in nature, but with our correct addition of secret ingredients to the system in small quantities, the same process can be performed in the laboratory within minutes, ”said researcher Dr. Gaurav Bhattacharjee, who worked on the project.

The new additive blend contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid in diets. This amino acid can also “significantly accelerate” the caging of natural gas to solid hydrate, also known as flammable ice, NUS said.

According to the university, the team’s formulation delivers the fastest response speed to date – more than twice as fast as existing standards – while being less toxic and safer to handle.

While other researchers have managed to artificially accelerate this reaction in the past, they resorted to using “highly toxic additives” that are unsafe for both the environment and affected personnel, NUS added.

The research is funded in part by the Energy Innovation Research Program, which is managed by the Energy Market Authority and funded by the National Research Foundation.

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