Journal of Power and Energy Engineering, 2013, 1, 41-46 Published Online October 2013 (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JPEE
Industrial Feasiblity of Direct Methane Conversion to
Hydrocarbons over Fe-Based Fischer Tropsch Catalyst
Ademola M. Rabiu, Isa M. Yusuf
Department of Chemical Engineering, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town 8001, South Afric a.
Received September 2013
Recently, as a direct consequence of the dwindling world oil reserves and the growing awareness of the environmental
problems associated with the use of coal as energy source, there is growing interest in cheaper, abundant a nd cleaner
burning methane. The Gas-to-Liquid technology offers perhaps the most attractive routes for the exploitation of the
world huge and growing natural gas resources. Using this process the erstwhile stranded gas is converted to premium
grade liquid fuels and chemicals that are easily transported. However, a widespread application of the GTL process is
being hampered by economical and technical challenges. The high cost of synthesis gas, for instance, weighs heavily on
the economics and competitiveness of the process limiting its wider application. This work presented a modified
Gas-to-Liquid process that eliminates the costly synthesis gas production step. The proposed pr ocess utilized an alterna-
tive pathway for methane activation via the production of chloromethane derivatives which are then converted to hy-
drocarbons. It established that hydrocarbons mainly olefins can be economically produced from di- and tri-chloro-
methanes over a typical iron -based F isch er Tropsch catalysts in a moving bed reactor at industrially relevant conditions.
Some of the attractions of the proposed process include a) the elimination of the costly air separation plant requirement
b) high process selectivity and c) significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions thereby savin g on feedstock loss and
the costly CO2 removal and isolation processes.
Keywords: Gas-to-Liquid; Methane Chlorination; Synthe sis Gas; Olefinic Hydrocarbons; Iron-Based Catalyst;
Moving-Bed Reactor; Deacon Process; Carbon-Dioxide Emission
1. Introduction
The discovery of more stranded gas resources and dwin-
dling oil reserves, have spurred the growing interest in
the Gas-to-Liq uid (GTL) technology [1,2]. The world
proven reserve of natural gas at the end of 2012 stands at
6800 trillion cubic foot (tcf) [3,4] that is, about 3196 bil-
lion barrels of oil equivalent. This estimates more than
double the crude oil reserves of around 1669 billion bar-
rels [3]. However, a total of 2612 tcf of this reserve [5],
more than 38 per cent are stranded [6], that is, in remote
locations far from existing markets, transportation and
processing infrastructures. In addition, a large amount of
gas is typically co-produced with crude oil as associated
gas. In many cases, the gas is routinely flared resulting in
a huge loss of revenue and serious environmental conse-
quences due to the greenhouse gases produced. It has
been estimated that the amount of gas being flared in
Africa could produce 200 Terawatt hours (TWh) of power,
about 50 per cent of the whole continent’s power con-
sumption [9,10]. Natural gas flaring worsens the global
warming problem by significantly increasing the emis-
sion of greenhouse g as es and volatile organic compounds.
A World Bank report estimated that natural gas flaring is
responsib le for about 10 per cent of the global CO2 emis-
sion [9]. Converting the natural gas resources on-site into
liquid products becomes attractive. Compare to natural
gas, the liquid products are relatively easier to handle,
they can be transported us ing existing infrastructures [7,
8,11] and have a higher energy density. One of the most
attractive routes for conversion of natural gas is the Gas-
to-Liquids technology [12,13]. The growing world gas
resource has resulted in construction of more GTL plants
The GTL technology includes a group of processes
that convert natural gas into liquid products [15]. Most of
these processes are scalable and hence offers an attrac-
tive route to monetize even a relatively small deposit of
natural gas. The technology involves direct [16,17] and
indirect [7,18,19] conversion of methane to synthetic liq-
uid products. The direct route involves methane direct
conversion into valuable chemicals and chemical inter-
mediates, for instance catalytic oxidation of methane to
Industrial Feasiblity of Direct Methane Conversion to Hydrocarbons over Fe-Based Fischer Tropsch Catalyst
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JPEE
produce methanol. The indirect conversion via synthesis
gas has gained more attention for the production of high
premium transportation fuels. Rapid technology devel-
opment has led to significant technological advances in
the GTL technology. While these advancements have added
new insights resulting in overall process improvement
[20], the heavy dependency on the cost of raw materials
still remains an economic challenge [21,22]. The produc-
tion of syngas together with the required air separation
unit and the eventual CO2 removal, is the most capital
and energy intensive of the overall GTL process [22-24],
accounting for between 55% - 70% of the total capital
investment and running costs of the plant [24,25]. Another
drawback of the syngas conversion route is the produc-
tion and emission of relatively large amounts of CO2. In
the reforming plant, about 20% of the carbon is con-
ver ted to CO2 [26].
This study is motivated by the economic challenges
posed by the costly synthesis gas production step, the
loss of feedstock as carbon dioxide, and the environmen-
tal challenges of the CO2 emission, associated with typi-
cal FT plants. A modified Gas-to-Liquid technology that
eliminates the use of synthesis gas is proposed. This proc-
ess provides insight into a potential route for commercial
application of a modified GTL p rocess where the costly
synthesis gas is replaced by chloromethanes and directly
converted to hydrocarbons, either in the presence or ab-
sence of hydrogen. The proposed process exhibits im-
portant advantages over th e typical process. It eliminates
the air separation unit which in a GTL plant is the unit
with the highest capital investment. Apart from the sig-
nificant environmental benefit due to zero CO2 emissions,
the process obviates the need for the costly CO2 removal
and isolation plants. The result is a process that is greener,
more energy efficient and economical for natural gas
conversion to liquid fuels and chemicals.
2. The Modified Gas-to-Liquid Process
The modified process for the conversion of n atural g as to
transportation fuels and chemicals consists of three prin-
cipal stepsproduction of chloromethane compounds;
conversion of the chloromethanes to hydrocarbons, and
lastly, chlorine recovery. The first step involves gas phase
thermal or catalytic selective chlorination of methane to
predominantly di-chloromethane and tri-chloromethane.
The monochloromethane is separated and recycled. Se-
condly, the chloromethane is fed into a moving-bed reac-
tor packed with iron-b ased FT catalyst and w herein it is
converted to predominantly olefinic hydrocarbons FT
products and HCl gas, at industrial relevant conditions.
The HCl by-product is separated from the FT products to
obtain premium fuels with permissichlorine content. The
process features a close chlorine loop. The Deacon reac-
tion is used to recover chlorine from the hydrogen chlo-
ride byproduct, so that effectively there is no net con-
sumption of chlorine in the overall process. Finally, the
plant employs a hydrolyser to regen erate the chloride
catalyst. The process flow diag r am is presented in Figure
1. The overall reaction can be represented as:
42n 2n2
CHO()C HH Oair+ →+
(1 )
Consisting of the following independent steps:
4 2223
223n 2n
(1.2 )
2 22
HClOClH O+→ +
(1. 3)
The process features an excellent pr ocess integration
to minimize utilities requirement. The process consists of
established technologies hence on ly salient points as re-
late to choice of reacting system and operating conditions
will be mentioned as appropriate. The production of hy-
drocarbon over the iron catalyst will be mentioned in
details however.
2.1. Production of Chloromethanes
Methane (typical of alkanes) undergoes very few reac-
tions. One of these reactions is halogenation, or the subs-
titution of hydrogen with halogen to form a halomethane.
This is a very important reaction providing alternative
pathway for methane activation for the production of syn-
thetic crude, fuels and chemicals. Industrial use of this
process will not only eliminate the expensive air separa-
tion plants, but as well produce far less greenhouse gases.
Gas phase thermal oxidation [27,28 ] and catalytic oxida-
tive methanation [29] process are suitable for industrial
application. The proposed process is based on elimina-
tion of need for air sep aration for oxygen production,
hence the gas phase thermal chlorination is selected.
Methane chlorination is a radical reaction character-
ised by poor selectivity [27], forming a products stream
consisting of equilibrium concentration of all the chloro-
methanes as shown in Equations 2:
CH4 + Cl2 CH3Cl + HCl (2.1)
CH3Cl + Cl2 CH2Cl2 + HCl (2.2)
CH2Cl2 + Cl2 CHCl3 + HCl (2.3)
CHCl3 + Cl2 CCl4 + HCl (2.4)
One way to influence the product ratios is to control
the moles of chlorine used and the process conditions. It
has been reported that, except for reaction 2.4, the prod-
ucts will contain all the chloromethanes [6,27,30,31]. The
process conditions chosen to maximize the proportions of
di- and tri-chloromethanes were as reported by Rozanov
and Treger [27]. Methyl chloride was separated from the
products and recycled with unreacted methane. Over Fe-
Industrial Feasiblity of Direct Methane Conversion to Hydrocarbons over Fe-Based Fischer Tropsch Catalyst
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JPEE
Figure 1. The schematic diagram for the modifies gas-to-liquid technology.
based catalysts, polymerisation of methylene chloride
(CH2Cl2) and CHCl3 to hydrocarbons (mainly olefins) was
achieved in preliminary work as detail in the next section.
Hence, the focus is to maximize the yield and recovery of
these compounds for the feasib ility of this process.
2.2. Production of Hydrocarbons
This study established that hydrocarbons mainly olefins
are produced from the polymerisation of CH2Cl2 and
CHCl3 over a typical Fe-based Fischer Tropsch catalysts
at industrially relevant conditions. The catalysts were
reduced in-situ in the pres ence of hyd rog e n.
Catalyst PreparationA Fe/Al2O3/Cu catalysts pre-
par ed by the method of co-precipitation was employed in
this study. Details of the catalyst formulation and prepa-
ration st eps are reported elsewhere [32]. The precipitate
is dried cake and crushed into p a rticles of pre-determined
size. The resulting oxyhydroxides were calcined in a flui-
dized bed reactor using Ar (flow rate 60 ml/min at NTP)
at 350˚C for 16 hrs using a heating rate of 1˚C/min. The
calcination step removes interstitial water and other vola-
tiles from the solid precursor.
Catalyst CharacterizationNitrogen chemisorption,
SEM-EDX and AAS analyses were employed to obtain
the surface area, pore size and pore size distribution, pore
volume, particle size, elemental distribution and compo-
sition of the crystallites respectively. The bulk phases pre-
sent was studied with XRD w hile the r educibility of the
metal oxides under the reaction conditions was studied
using the TPR method (see Rabi u et al. [32] for details).
ReactionsThe reactions were conducted in a fixed-
bed tubular reactor made up of a ¾-inch OD stainless
steel tube and 30 cm long. The requir ed amount of the
calcined catalyst is diluted with enough silicon carbide
and packed into the isothermal zone of the tube and se-
cur ed in place with a glass wool. The catalysts are re-
duced in-situ with hydrogen flowing at 60 ml/min (STP)
at a temperature ramped at 10˚C/min to 350˚C for 16 hrs.
Upon completing the reduction, for the reaction with
hydrogen, a 3-way valve is used to direct the hydrogen
gas to the reactor via a saturator filled with CH2Cl2 (and
later replaced CHCl3). The temperature of the saturator is
pre-determined such that the de sired vapour of the chlo-
romethanes is carried with the hydrogen into the reactor
maintained at 1 atm and 240˚C.
Products AnalysisThe setup is fitted with an online
GC-TCD to study the activity and an ampoule sampling
point (for offline GC-FID analysis) for full products sam-
pling. The GC-TCD is used to obtain the H2 conversions
and the methane yield. A N2-cyclohexane mixture was
used as internal standard for the GC-FID analysis.
ResultsThe XRD pattern confirmed that the domi-
nant phase in the calcined samples was haematite. The
Industrial Feasiblity of Direct Methane Conversion to Hydrocarbons over Fe-Based Fischer Tropsch Catalyst
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JPEE
elemental composition was confirmed with AAS and EDX
studies (Figure 2). The TPR spectra r evealed that a high
degree of reduction (~85%) w as obtained for the samples
reduced at 350˚C. From the G C-FID chromatogram only
olefins were observed with ethylene been the most ab-
Thermodynamic calculation predicts the transforma-
tion of the catalyst in the presence of chlorine gas to var-
ious iron chlorides: FeOCl, FeCl2 and FeCl3. The catalyst
expectedly suffers rapid deactivation. In Figure 3, the con-
version of the hydrogen co-fed to monitor activity declined
rapidly after about 22 hrs on stream. XRD analysis of the
spent catalysts shown that the catalyst confirmed the
presence of FeCl2 and FeCl3 (Fig ure 4). The catalyst was
found to regain its activity after steam was sent to the
reactor (as discussed in detail in section 2.4).
2.3. Recovery of Chlorine
During the gas-phase methane chlorination reaction, a
significant amount of the (natural gas) feedstock is con-
verted to hydrogen chloride gas (as a by-product). Cata-
lytic oxidation, electrolysis and cyclic oxidization proc-
esses provide routes for the recovery of chlorine from the
Figure 2. The fresh catalyst EDX pattern.
Figure 3. H2 conversion with time .
Figure 4. XRD pattern for the spent catalyst.
HCl [33]. Of particular importance is the heterogeneous
catalytic gas-phase o xidatio n of HCl with air or oxy ge n
to produce chlorine gas [34,35] as shown in Equation (3):
The so-called Deacon process is a well-established and
matured industrial process f or l a rge scale manufactur ing
of high purity chlorine from hydrogen chloride. Com-
par ed to the competing electrolytic processes, the Deacon
process requires lower energy input [36] and thermal
management requirements [37]. A highly active catalyst
is required to make the operation of the oxidation process
feasible at relatively low temperatures. The original cata-
lyst developed for the Deacon process based on CuO/
CuCl2 suffers from low stability and low activity as a
result of formation of volatile copper chloride species due
to volatilization of the active phase [38] and the highly
corrosive mixture formed by the unreacted HCl in the
presence of water [34]. These have resulted into a limited
application of the Deacon process, and the dominance of
the electrolytic proces s for large-scale recovery of chlo-
rine from HCl [33,38].
The modified-FT process pro posed aims to eliminate
the use of pure oxygen and the associated cost for air
separation facilities. A low temperature process devel-
oped by Sumitomo Chemicals employed a highly stable
and active TiO2 rutile-suppor ted RuO2 catalyst in a xed-
bed reactor con figuration [37,38]. The uniqueness of the
process is that the RuO2/TiO2 catalyst exhibited a high
thermal conductivity and high activity for HCl oxidation
at a relatively low temperature. The catalyst gave very
high HCl conversion up to 90% at reaction temperatures
between 200˚C and 350˚C [34,39]. The tendency to pro-
mote selective and self-regulating surface chlorination
while at the same time suppressing in-depth chlorination
[40,41] make the catalyst highly stable [39]. The Sumi-
tomo’s process requires lower energy input compared
with the electrolysis process. A drawback however is the
high price of ruthenium, hence this needs to be investi-
gated relative to its benefit.
Industrial Feasiblity of Direct Methane Conversion to Hydrocarbons over Fe-Based Fischer Tropsch Catalyst
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JPEE
An alternative process that employs active but cheaper
metal oxide was suggested by Moser [42]. The study
investigated various catalyst supports for CeO2 and found
that Zirconia gave the best stability and activity. The
catalyst was reported to possess excellent thermal con-
ductivity, which reduces hot spots within the catalyst
layer. It is therefore proposed for this process and em-
ployed at a temperature of 350˚C.
2.4. Catalysts Regeneration
As was mentioned earlier, XRD analyses of the spent
catalysts shown that the reduced Fe crystallites are rea-
dily oxidized to F e Cl 2 and FeCl3 and probably FeOCl,
due to the prevalence of HCl and gaseous chlorine in the
reactor. When steam was passed over the catalyst at ele-
vated temperature, it readily reduced to magnetite ac-
cording to equation 4. The catalyst deactivation-regene-
ration follows:
23 22x2
Fe OHClFeOClFeClH O++ →++
x 234
FeOClFeClHOFeOHCl+ +→+
where x = 2 and 3
Finally, the FT product is further treated to remove
trace of HCl to permissible level. The HCl is recovered
and recycled.
3. Conclusion
It could be seen that th e process configuration proposed
in this study offers a potential industrial greener process
for the direct convers ion of natural gas to highly priced
olefins which can be further treated for production of
high premium gasoline or as chemicals intermediates. The
process gener ated far less carbon dioxide and the prod-
ucts stream is well defined.
4. Acknowledgements
The s tudy is supported by the funds provided under the
THRIP program of the South African Departments of Trade
and Industry and Science and Technology and research
fund provided by Cape Peninsula University of Tech-
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