A new method of reducing the carbon dioxide content of natural gas could slash both the environmental and economic costs of purifying the fossil fuel.
The system developed at Queen's University Belfast uses a combination of water and ionic liquids - salts that are liquid under ambient conditions - to absorb CO2 from raw natural gas. The CO2 can then be removed from the mixture to be stored or reprocessed.
As well as reducing the environmental impact of the gas itself, the recovered CO2 can also be used for enhanced oil recovery - where a gas is injected back into oil wells to make it easier to extract the remaining oil.
The new ionic liquid system is also safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly than current amine-based purifying systems, which use volatile and corrosive materials, say the scientists behind the research.
Dr David Wassell, who led the team from the Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre, said: "Using ionic liquids to remove the carbon dioxide from natural gas could have significant impact on the gas processing industry, particularly with the promise of using the carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. It could make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental impact caused by this energy source."
The system is compact enough to be utilised on offshore platforms or installed on land-based gas-processing plants, according to the researchers.
Project coordinator Dr Natalia Plechkova said: "This joint project, developed with the global energy company PETRONAS, shows the progress which can be made in genuinely collaborative industry-university projects. The key to success was an integrated team approach."
"This is the latest example of the commitment of researchers and staff at Queen's to advancing knowledge and achieving excellence for the benefit of society."