MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A researcher at West Virginia University (WVU) is looking to help the world capitalize on its stores of natural gas.

$110,000 in funding from the American Chemical Society was recently given to Madelyn Ball, an assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, to conduct research on how to better “convert alkane hydrocarbons from shale gas into olefins,” according to the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

Olefins are used in the production of plastics and other complex chemicals, and to get them from shale gas, the gas must undergo a complex conversion process of dehydrogenation that results in high energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Ball’s research explores the use of carbon dioxide as an oxidant in the conversion process to make it more efficient.

“Carbon dioxide as an oxidant has the potential to transform the production of olefins through a more energy efficient reaction process than current olefin processes,” Ball said. “We are working to develop metal-based catalysts for the dehydrogenation reaction with carbon dioxide as a reactant. The main everyday comparison that I refer to is the catalytic converter that is in every car. That catalyst converts toxic gases into less harmful products to minimize pollution from cars. The catalysts we are trying to develop convert natural gas into other valuable chemicals.”  

Ball’s method could potentially allow for the efficient conversion of abundant ethane and propane into valuable olefin products.

“Using carbon dioxide with ethane in this process has the potential to improve catalyst stability and avoid formation of undesired side products,” Ball said. “There are many unknowns about this catalytic process, specifically around the role of carbon dioxide. My group will seek to better understand the fundamentals of this process to design better catalysts. A clear mechanistic understanding of this reaction will allow us to rationally tune catalyst properties and improve their performance for on-purpose olefin production.”