Machine Design

Waste Not, Want Not - Natural Gas for the Future

Natural gas is a vital component of the world's supply of energy. Despite its importance, however, about 3.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is burned wastefully or released into the atmosphere annually, according to a study done by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Julie Kalista
Online Editor

Thermoacoustic natural gas liquefier

Furthermore, there are some 5,000 trillion cubic feet of underdeveloped and unused natural gas deposits that exist around the world in well fields that, because of their size or location, are too expensive to develop.

Thanks to researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Denver-based company, Swift LNG plans to turn that gas into a usable liquid fuel. "Using these wasted or dormant clean energy resources will address the environmental concerns as well as helping to solve the world's energy problems," says one researcher.

The Lab has just licensed thermoacousitc natural gas liquefication technology, that converts heat into sound waves and then converts the hot sound wave energy to cold refrigeration. This is accomplished using pressurized helium contained in networked steel pipes. First, the system combusts a small portion of the natural gas to heat one end of the network. Then, the resulting acoustic energy refrigerates the opposite end of the network which cools the rest of the natural gas. At −160°C the natural gas liquefies to a density suitable for cost-effective transport.

Capturing natural gas requires expensive ultracold natural gas liquefiers the size of oil refineries. But Los Alamos' thermoacoustic liquefier should be economical at a smaller size, useful for remote locations with smaller gas fields.

Swift LNG plans to have the commercial thermoacoustic liquefaction system ready for use by 2010.

More Information:
Los Alamos National Laboratory

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