Like the alchemists of yore, a US company is seeking to convert a substance the world has a lot of — natural gas — into one it needs more of — gasoline.
Primus Green Energy, owned by the Israel Corporation, on Wednesday opened a plant to demonstrate the commercial viability of its grand plan: to convert millions of cubic feet of natural gas into hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline.
What the world really needs is oil — or more specifically, gasoline and other transportation fuels. There are lots of ways to generate energy to heat homes and keep the lights on — using coal, biofuels, nuclear power, and so on — but so far, gasoline derived from fossil fuels has been the only reliable way to keep cars, trucks, and planes moving.
What the world has a lot of, however, is natural gas — so much so that in many places there’s a gas glut driving prices and profits down. Meanwhile, because there’s less oil than the markets demand, the price of gasoline remains relatively high. Primus’s idea is to take that gas and turn it into the same gasoline that is manufactured from crude oil.
To that end, the company has built a demonstration plant that will use natural gas to produce 100,000 gallons of gasoline a year. It’s a precursor to the chain of plants the company hopes to set up eventually, ensuring that gasoline remains plentiful, and perhaps cheaper: According to the company, Primus’s gasoline “can compete effectively with crude oil at a price level of $65 per barrel.” With crude oil selling for about $100 a barrel currently, Primus gasoline one day could bring down the cost of driving significantly.
The synthesis process to convert natural gas to gasoline has been known for decades, and has been used in the past. It works not just with natural gas, but with other feedstocks as well, including coal and biomass (like corn or soybeans). The raw material is converted into an element called syngas.
Primus’s innovation comes at the next stage, with its proprietary process to convert syngas into gasoline, home heating oil, or jet fuel. The Primus process, called STG+, produces high quality fuels that do not require additions, such as iron-based catalysts, that other syngas to fuel methods require, making them cleaner and cheaper than petroleum-based gasoline. The gasoline produced by the process is 93 octane, considered a premium gasoline grade in the US.
Primus has been perfecting its technology for the past several years, and on Wednesday officially opened its demonstration plant, the precursor to the commercial plants the company hopes to build soon.
The company held a ceremony/celebration at the plant, located in Hillsborough, New Jersey, attended by company officials, Israel Corp. president and CEO Nir Gilad, as well as by the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. Speaking at the event, Christie said, “Primus’s decision to build their new demonstration plant in New Jersey is an important step for the state, and this administration continues to work to attract innovative businesses that will create clean energy jobs and build a greener economy.”
Primus’s primary investor has been the Israel Corporation, via its renewable energy arm, IC Green Energy. According to Yom-Tov Samia, president and chairman of Primus Green Energy and president of IC Green Energy, “The commissioning of Primus’s demonstration plant represents the fruits of our investment and further proof of Primus’s ability to fulfill its promise.
“There is a major global need for alternative fuels derived from non-petroleum sources,” said Samia, “which will contribute to energy independence and energy security for both the United States and Israel and Primus is uniquely poised to take advantage of attractive economics and a first-of-its-kind technology to make alternative fuels a commercial reality.”