A one-step process to convert household natural gas into a plastics raw material has been discovered by Honeywell. The implications of this discovery by Honeywell International Inc. has are far-reaching- by helping in easing a glut of natural gas from U.S. shale drilling; lower the cost of plastics processed products, and give Honeywell a steady profit stream from licensing the technique. The process would allow to make ethylene from methane, commonly known as natural gas. Currently, ethylene is produced from ethane, which is found alongside natural gas and costs three times as much. Ethylene can also come from naphthas in oil refining, which are more expensive than ethane.
Direct conversion has so far met with limited success because methane molecules are extremely stable. Once a reaction starts, it’s difficult to stop at the desired chemical, such as ethylene, before the methane breaks down further into low-value carbon and hydrogen gas, Veser said. Methane can now be converted to synthesis gas and then to methanol, which can be turned into ethylene. Those steps require more investment. UOP’s process using natural gas would save about 40% from the cost of ethane-based ethylene production at current prices.