$500K grant will allow for research into natural gas conversion at Bakken oil fields
The Department of Energy awarded the grant to UND and H Quest Vanguard to research separating carbon and hydrogen from flared natural gas at North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.
GRAND FORKS — A $500,000 grant from the Department of Energy will allow research into separating carbon and hydrogen from natural gas obtained at North Dakota’s oil wells.
The grant was awarded to the University of North Dakota's UND’s College of Engineering and Mines, in consultation with H Quest Vanguard, a Pittsburgh-based energy startup.
The research will examine the efficacy of using a process called “microwave pyrolysis” to separate carbon and hydrogen from natural gas emitted at oil fields in the Bakken formation of western North Dakota. Dan Laudal, director of UND’s institute for energy studies, said the technology has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“Pyrolysis uses heat and electricity to break down natural gas into carbon and hydrogen,” said Laudal. “The carbon isolated during pyrolysis is a solid, so you’re not releasing any CO2 into the atmosphere. Rather, the isolated carbon, called ‘carbon black’ can be sold for use in a variety of industrial applications. Hydrogen is also of great interest to the energy industry in North Dakota, as a potential source of energy with a lower carbon footprint.”
According to Laudal, the research will be conducted at H Quest’s laboratories in Pittsburgh, which have the capability to simulate conditions similar to those present in the Bakken formation. After conducting simulations, H Quest will send its data to UND for analysis.
Laudal said the majority of the research on UND’s front will be conducted by a team of Ph.D. students fully funded by the university. Laudal cites this as an important workforce development opportunity for the students.
George Skopstov, president and CEO of H Quest, said capturing flared natural gas from North Dakota’s oil wells is paramount, both from an environmental and economic standpoint.
“North Dakota has a lot of natural gas that just burns, because it doesn’t have a path to market,” Skopstov said. “H Quest has technology that can take that gas and utilize it on the spot, instead of releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which along with polluting wastes its potential energy uses.”
Skopstov said in addition to the aforementioned energy potential of hydrogen, it can also be used for industrial applications.
“There has been a lot of interest recently in utilizing pyrolysis to generate hydrogen,” Skopstov said. “Hydrogen is one of the main components in making fertilizer, and it can also be used in the production of steel without emitting CO2.”
The research grant will run for two years, and Skopstov hopes the results will lead to the implementation of his firm’s technology onsite at the Bakken wells.
“The Department of Energy is very interested in this research because they want to reduce the environmental impact of flaring in the Bakken area,” Skopstov said. “Hopefully, we will be able to take the results of this study to the oil companies and say ‘hey, this works, let’s deploy it.’”