ARCHIVE. In the 1920s, two German scientists—Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch—developed revolutionary chemical reactions that could transform gas into liquid. These reactions proved particularly valuable to natural gas-based fuel processing. Since the Fischer-Tropsch days, engineers around the world have been working on ways to tweak these gas-to-liquid (GTL) reactions to produce more products, more efficiently and with less environmental impact. An international research team headquartered at Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) is making remarkable progress along these lines.
“Qatar is the most attractive place to a scientist wanting to make a difference,” said Dr. Nimir Elbashir, assistant professor at TAMUQ and a researcher with more than 15 years of experience at the leading edge of R&D related to fuel processing and petrochemicals. “For researchers in this field, QNRF has opened the door to build international network collaborations and at the same time has provided facilities to make a difference with industrial collaborators.”
Dr. Elbashir’s team—involving researchers from Qatar University, Texas A&M University, College Station, University of Cambridge (CU) and Auburn University—has targeted three key GTL research areas. The first involves a tight focus on the exact molecular actions at play during Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis (FTS) reactions and how different environmental factors impact the process. This information is then applied to the second area of research, test model systems, wherein models are built and tested for their ability to produce different liquid products under different conditions.
The third focus emphasizes fuel products and formulating them to be as effective as traditional crude oil relatives with a reduced environmental impact. Funded by Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), it entails a unique collaboration between academia—TAMUQ, University of Sheffield, UK, and DLR, a German Aerospace Institute—and industry leaders Shell and Rolls Royce.
Referring to the US$950 million Sasol-Qatar Petroleum GTL plant in Qatar and Shell’s largest GTL plant in the world—known as The Pearl GTL in Qatar—Dr. Elbashir said that Qatar was an obvious choice for his research base.
Dr. Elbashir’s team is working to isolate and combine the strongest aspects of the technologies used at Sasol and Shell into one technology. To be sure his team is on the right track, he assembled an advisory board on both technologies, with members from Shell, Sasol, Exxon Mobil and Qatar Gas.
“This project involves a unique network and is not just about me,” Dr. Elbashir said. “I can design a reactor but someone else has to optimize this design, and someone else has to develop a control setup for this design while another person has to understand how such thermodynamic behavior has to happen. So you can see, it requires experts in different areas and these people are at the top of their field.
“At the same time, to make the research applied, we rely on the industry experts to tell us whether we are going in the right direction and if what we’re doing is relevant to the design of future technology.”
Shell Pearl GTL Plant in Qatar
Shell's "The Pearl" GTL Plant, based in Qatar, is the largest such facility in the world.
One important potential result of this research is the impact it will make on smaller fuel companies and the market at large.
“Right now, only the major corporations around the world can invest in the gas to liquid technologies because it’s quite expensive,” he said. “Companies like Shell are the only ones who can afford to invest US$20 billion in this technology. This greatly limits the participation of the small to middle sized companies. Our objective is to advance the technology and provide a unit that can be manipulated to produce specific products and that is useful for mid-sized companies.”
On this project alone, Dr. Elbashir’s team has published eight peer-reviewed articles and eight conference papers. They’ve also presented research findings at over two dozen international engineering conferences.
But the best is yet to come, he said. Through a recent NPRP award—running through 2014—Dr. Elbashir, in partnership with CU, will be conducting studies to visualize the molecular processes of GTL using MRI and NMR technologies.
“We’ll be moving one step ahead of any research ever done in this field,” Dr. Elbashir said. “We’re planning to investigate the in situ behavior of the reaction in a way that nobody has ever done before. We’ve been making a lot of assumptions about the fundamentals of GTL, but still we have not visualized any of it. This is all happening at a micro-scale and it’s happening very fast.
“I’m confident in the team we have built and if we are successful, we may answer questions that span beyond emissions, and we may help refine the assumptions made in hundreds of papers written in the past—nobody has ever really seen the GTL process at the molecular level, and we may soon see exactly how it happens!”
Innovative projects like these would be difficult, if not impossible, to move forward without QNRF, Dr. Elbashir said. “For someone like me, in applied research, this is an amazing opportunity.”
Development of Novel Gas-to-Liquid Technology in Near-Critical and Supercritical Phase Media
LPI Name: Dr. Nimir Elbashir, Texas A&M University - Qatar
This book contains video, audio and rich coverage of the event and is downloadable for free, here.
In addition to providing highly-accessible background about COP 18, this book offers in-depth coverage and analysis from high-level meetings, social gatherings and side events at the conference.
Content is brought to life through video, audio and imagery that allows the reader to experience and understand further the importance of this annual meeting on climate change.
Let’s face it, green space and environmental conservation are not Qatar’s strong suits. But the nation’s largest non-profit organization, Qatar Foundation, is sitting on a big project that aims to change this. As you read this, experts in horticulture and agriculture are implementing the world’s first Qur’anic Botanical Garden, based in Doha. The garden will feature both an open green space and a museum, together spanning around 2.5 hectares (25,000 m 2 ).
“We are going to plant 59 species of plants that are mentioned in the Quran and Hadith,” said Fatima Saleh Al-Khulaifi, Project Manager, Qur’anic Botanical Garden. “Then in the museum, you will see the product of these plants—the seeds, the herbarium, etc.”
QScience.com, September 1st, 2013
The situation we face as a human race is at once dire and perplexing. Climate change's sheer complexity - socially, technically, developmentally, environmentally, politically - certainly invites malaise, and yet more and more people are unwilling and unable to turn their face from impending circumstances. Still, their numbers are not climbing fast enough.
One of the major blockades to collective action related to climate change is the lack of accessible media that delves into the issues. Acronyms, political jargon and dry, lifeless coverage so far dissuades even the most open of individuals. People simply don't have the time to decode what is happening. And few have traveled to the extent that they relate to what is happening.
This book is a recap of attendance of high-level meetings and side events at COP18. It is an effort to present the meeting and its basis in a way that is at once accessible and engaging. While it barely scratches the surface, it promises to give the reader a sense of where we are now, in terms of action plans; where we need to be, in terms of natural time lines; the challenges and potential consequences we face.
At the end of each section is a list of scientific publications related directly to the issues at hand at COP18.