news / 2013-08-12

Syngas to Fuel: Using flare gas as a fuel

At the Syngas to Fuel plant, scientists have been experimenting with the generation of petrol from synthesis gas via methanol as an intermediate product for two and a half years. The plant was erected by Chemieanlagenbau Chemnitz (CAC). Source: TU Bergakademie Freiberg

The burning flare from mineral oil fields can often be seen from far away. Currently, many companies simply burn off the gas which is issued during mining, rather than using it as an energy source. Worldwide, 140 billion cubic metres of flare gas are burned every year. This creates CO2 which damages the environment.


However, when the gas flows into the atmosphere without being burned, it is far more harmful to the environment due to its high methane content. The largest emitters of flare gas are Russia and Nigeria. Until now, there has been no infrastructure in place in those countries which makes it possible to use the gas. It doesn’t make economic sense to lay more gas pipelines to the remote mineral oil fields. Also, the gas is not of the same quality as natural gas.


A solution has now been found by the Institute of Energy Process Engineering and Chemical Engineering at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, in collaboration with the systems engineer Chemieanlagenbau Chemnitz. With newly-developed technology, the gas which is produced is converted into petrol. If the method were to be introduced for all oil fields worldwide, this could even produce far more petrol than is needed to cover consumption in Germany.

Until now, alternative syntheses have been too expensive

Six kilometres of pipelines were laid in the test plant at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg over an area the size of a football pitch. The synthesis gas plant is approximately three storeys high. Source: Christina Geimer, BINE Informationsdienst

There are already methods available for using the flare gas, but they are too expensive. The synthesis plants used until now cover areas of several kilometres. The operating life of such synthesis plants is 40 years or more, in contrast to mineral oil fields, which are dismantled far more quickly.

“We assume that our method will be at least a third cheaper than the ones used to date. This will make it economically viable to use the flare gas,” explains Professor Bernd Meyer, Vice Chancellor of the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. The project partners have achieved the cheaper method by reducing the process stages. The plant currently operates in a dual-stage process. First, the flare gas is converted into methanol through catalysis. In a second stage, high octane petrol is produced. In particular, no subsequent chemical treatment of the synthesis products is required, as is currently the case with the Fischer-Tropsch process. In addition, the waste water created can be treated so that it has feed water quality at the end of the process.

As a next stage, Chemieanlagenbau Chemnitz is planning a plant for commercial operation in Kazakhstan. They aim to use this experience to help further develop the synthesis plant. “Our next goal is to develop a single-stage method. The plant will then be small enough to fit into a container, making it suitable for mobile use,” says Meyer. If the plants can be moved from site to site, the investment costs will be significantly reduced. The project is being funded by the Free State of Saxony with money from the European Regional Development Fund.

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