Nanotechnology developed at Tech leads to breakthrough in fuel conversion

Oct 29, 2012 | Engineering and Science, Research and Development

Jupiter Fuels licenses Louisiana Tech technology, establishes development office on campus — Recognizing a national need to eliminate U.S. dependency on foreign oil and reverse large trade deficits driven by oil imports, Jupiter Fuels – a privately owned startup development company focused on proving the economics of breakthrough natural gas-to-liquid fuel conversion technology – is capitalizing on nanotechnology energy research taking place at Louisiana Tech University. Fuel conversion technology developed at Louisiana Tech can covert natural gas to liquid fuel more efficiently, at lower pressures (meaning dramatically lower capitalization costs), than current industry methods.  Private investors in Jupiter Fuels, which include James Madden and his sons Doug Madden, David Madden and John Madden of Minden, Louisiana, are joining with Louisiana Tech to embark on a $3.3 million prototype development effort.

Jupiter Fuels

In an effort to continue working closely with faculty and researchers at Louisiana Tech, company officials announced today the establishment of a Jupiter Fuels, LLC development office located in Louisiana Tech’s Humana Enterprise Center.  David Madden, who will serve as president of Jupiter Fuels, Doug Madden and John Madden are all graduates of Louisiana Tech. Joining the board of Jupiter Fuels are Dr. Chester Wilson, an associate professor of electrical engineering and nanosystems engineering at Louisiana Tech, and Dr. John McDonald, one of Wilson’s former students.  Wilson and McDonald are the inventors of the nanotechnology developed at Louisiana Tech. “It’s simple economics that drives the value of this invention and investment,” said David Madden.  “The cost of natural gas is pretty low while the price of liquid fuel is high.  If we can more efficiently convert 9,000 cubic feet of natural gas to the same amount of liquid fuel that comes from a barrel of oil, then I think we may have something valuable for America.” Wilson and McDonald were introduced to the Maddens by Joel Martin, a retired Air Force colonel and local entrepreneur, who has experience in helping research and development efforts at universities. Jupiter Fuels was created to prove the economic value of converting feedstock methane gas, such as Louisiana’s plentiful natural gas reserves, to liquid fuel. The gas-to-liquid conversion is done using the Fischer-Tropsch process that was invented in Germany, originally for coal gasification, before World War II. Wilson and McDonald found new bulk-process nanomaterial catalysts that greatly improve gas-to-liquid conversion efficiency. Their breakthrough research also allows the catalyst to convert gas to liquid fuel at far lower pressures than current industry methods. Lower pressures in their improved process means that the cost of the establishing and maintaining fuel production plants can be greatly reduced. “This research has been many years in the making and I’m glad to see it get the support from investors,” said Wilson.  “We think it’s a true game changer for U.S. energy needs and offers the greatest potential to lower the U.S. trade deficit and get our economy on a better path.  This is just one of many applications we’ll see from promising nanotechnology research that’s being conducted right here at Louisiana Tech.” Ray Delia, business manager for Jupiter Fuels said, “Many others are doing gas-to-liquid conversion and the basic process has been around since before WWII.  The real breakthrough our scientists offer, using nanoengineered catalyst, is to greatly lower the pressure at which the conversion takes place.  If we prove this true, then we can cut capitalization costs.  For example, a 5,000 gallon per day fuel plant would cost $500 million to build with current technology.  Our new technology is intended to cut that in half.” Lower capital and operating costs will allow the nascent gas-to-liquid fuel industry to take greater risks and exploit U.S. natural gas as a liquid fuel source. While a prototype production plant is being constructed in North Louisiana to validate exact numbers, the estimates are that the process will take about 9,000 cubic feet of natural gas to produce the same amount of liquid fuel that comes from one barrel of crude oil. McDonald says the conversions process begins with cleaning contaminants, such as sulfur, from the gas and then reforming the methane into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which is fed into the Fischer-Tropsch process.  “When using our proprietary catalyst, the process converts the reformer output gases into a hydrocarbon chain liquid fuel and liquid water,” McDonald said.  “We control the type of fuel coming out by accurately adjusting flow rates, temperatures, and pressures of the reaction.  The length of the hydrocarbon chain determines the type of fuel output, such as diesel.” “The Louisiana Tech-Jupiter Fuels partnership is indicative of our efforts to produce technologies that can have an impact on our region and to work with public and private companies that can help deliver these technologies into the marketplace,” said Dr. Les Guice, executive vice president and vice president for research and development at Louisiana Tech.  “Providing opportunities for our faculty to explore, develop, and commercialize these innovations will play an important part in the future economic development of north Louisiana. “We are most appreciative of the Madden family for their vision and leadership in developing this innovative technology company.”