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QNRF-funded project aims to purify natural gas and reduce Qatar’s carbon footprint
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QNRF-funded project aims to purify natural gas and reduce Qatar’s carbon footprint

Qatar is home to one of the largest reservoirs of natural gas globally and holds a major share in the global market of extracting, processing, and supplying natural gas. During the processing and exploitation of this vital natural resource, carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced which is an inherent impurity that requires effective removal from mixtures with methane (CH4) and nitrogen (N2).

Moreover, since CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas and contributes to climate change worldwide, its capture and utilization are crucial as reflected by the agreement of several world leaders to reduce the concentration of CO2 in the air under The Paris Agreement. Given the vast amounts of natural gas reserve and the amounts processed yearly in Qatar, we have a responsibility to innovate ways that ensure that the carbon footprint of natural gas processing in Qatar is reduced.

A team of researchers from Qatar University (QU) took up this challenge and has successfully developed effective membranes to capture CO2. Titled, ‘Design, Synthesis and Evaluation of New UV-curable Polymeric Membranes for Energy-Efficient Gas Separations in Natural Gas Processing and Exploitation,’ (NPRP10-0126-170257) the project has been made possible through Qatar National Research Fund’s National Priorities Research Program.

Led by Dr. Mohammed Hassan from the Center for Advanced Materials at QU, the research team focused on making the polymer-based gas separation membranes to be easily manufactured, energy-conscious, and environmentally sustainable.

To make this possible, the team used a new family of UV-curable polyethylene glycol (PEG) containing a thiol-ene network, which enables efficient separation of CO2. PEG, is known for its excellent CO2 solubility based selectivity, as CO2 can interact with repeating ether groups. The scope of the project encompasses the aspects of new membrane design, synthesis, and optimization to improve its mechanical behavior, thermal stability, chemical resistance, long-term durability, and recovery efficiency.

Based on the results so far, the new membranes exhibit an unprecedented combination of outstanding mechanical properties, inherent resistance to oxygen, and tunable selectivity. These characteristics make the solution developed in Qatar superior to those of the current industrial benchmark membranes like PolarisTM. Moreover, the newly developed membranes show a very high selectivity for CO2 over both nitrogen and methane gases which makes them highly practical and scalable from an industrial point of view.

While this project promises a huge and positive impact for the natural gas industry in Qatar, it is also actively building the local human capacity in Qatar, specifically in the area of development, characterization, and testing of advanced polymeric membranes capable of efficient CO2 removal from light gases. Moreover, it has also helped to strengthen Qatar’s knowledge-sharing network with leading research and academic institutions abroad as the QU researchers are joined by interdisciplinary experts from the University of Southern Mississippi, and have received in-kind efforts and support from Qatar Gas.

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