May 14, 2015 – Reactive Innovations, LLC received a grant from the Department of Energy to develop a natural gas to C2 hydrocarbon reactor. With large increases in the worldwide natural gas reserves, it can be expected that natural gas will play an increasingly important role in energy and chemical supplies. The past few decades have seen increased interest in processing the methane in natural gas to products. The direct methane conversion using catalytic and thermal methods is made difficult due to the strength of the methane C-H bond. With the Gibb’s free energy of methane being much less than most hydrocarbons, it is difficult to obtain high yields using catalytic or thermal processes. Plasma chemical processes, especially cold plasma, are a promising route for synthesizing chemicals with high activation energy.
Using Reactive’s micro-channel design coupled with a cold plasma driving force, this reactor aims to convert methane into valuable ethane, ethylene, and acetylene chemicals. The use of a micro-channel reactor in a cold plasma reaction process increases the thermal and mass-transfer rates to the electrode walls. With both heat transfer and mass transfer coefficients increasing as the channel diameter is reduced, using an array of micro-channels with this catalytic cold plasma approach significantly improves the reaction yields while lowering energy requirements. This process intensification approach will enable this chemical reactor to be miniaturized for point-of-use, on-demand applications.