Idaho National Laboratory Emerges with New Low-temp Hydrocarbon Cracking Processes

April 4, 2018

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A team of Idaho National Laboratory (INL) researchers has now pioneered an electrochemical process that could eliminate the need for high-energy steam cracking. In an article published in the scientific journal Energy and Environmental Science, the researchers report they’ve hit upon a process for creating synthetic fuels and plastics that uses 65 percent less energy and produces up to 98 percent less carbon dioxide.

Ethane, a major component of natural gas liquids, offers a simpler hydrocarbon to refine than oil. Once ethane is converted to ethylene, it can be used to make polymers for everything from cellphone cases to disposable diapers.

The INL research, being conducted in conjunction with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Wyoming, was selected under an Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Advanced Manufacturing Office funding opportunity focused on advanced materials, advanced processes, and modeling and analysis tools for materials and manufacturing.

DOE announced $35 million for 24 projects to support early-stage, innovative technologies and solutions in advanced manufacturing.  These projects will work to reduce technical uncertainty and develop new knowledge associated with potential breakthrough materials, processes, and tools for U.S. manufacturers that could improve their competitiveness and enhance their energy efficiency.

The INL project will receive $1.25 million over two years for emerging research to address manufacturing challenges.

Learn more about several factors that drive the project and INL’s future efforts to convert methane into ethylene.

Idaho National Laboratory is one of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

EERE's Advanced Manufacturing Office supports early-stage research to advance innovation in U.S. manufacturing and promote American economic growth and energy security.