Studying natural gas at the nano level

Natural gas is an abundant energy resource for the United States, but much of it is trapped in shale or tight-sand formations. Baojun Bai is working on a way to extract that gas by studying the energy source at the molecular level.


Bai, an assistant professor of petroleum engineering, is leading the research, which looks at how natural gas behaves in these constricted environments. Working with Bai is Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry, whose single-molecule imaging system will help the researchers examine the flow properties of natural gas on a small scale.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that tight sands and shale formations may hold up to 460 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to meet current U.S. demand for nearly 21 years. (According to the Natural Gas Supply Association, Americans consume about 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year).
But Bai says that traditional methods of extracting natural gas will not work in these tight formations.
“The problem is that the pore size is so small — only a few nanometers,” he says. In conventional natural gas reservoirs, the gas flows through pores that are a few micrometers in width.
The difference between nanometers and micrometers is significant. A single nanometer is one billionth of a meter. A micrometer is one millionth of a meter. That means that a micrometer is 1,000 times larger than a nanometer.
At the nanometer scale, materials behave differently. No one really knows how natural gas flows at that level, Bai says. So he, Ma and some Missouri S&T graduate students are trying to find out.
“We want an improved understanding of how the gas flows through the pore space — specifically, how natural gas in a nanoscale pore behaves,” Bai says.

Around the Puck

Pushing the boundaries of space exploration

Space tourism could start in the next  two years, says Jeff Thornburg, AE’96, but it’s going to be expensive.

[Read More...]

EWB completes Guatemala project

After nearly a decade of work, a small Guatemalan village can now count on clean drinking water thanks to the Missouri S&T student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

[Read More...]

Homecoming 2017

The Miner Alumni Association honored a select group of alumni during Homecoming for their accomplishments and their devotion to the association, the campus and its students.

[Read More...]

Dissolving electronics

Electronic devices that can not only be implanted in the human body but also completely dissolve on their own — known as “bioresorbable” electronics — are one of medical technology’s next frontiers.

[Read More...]

Automated kiosk speeds travel security

Your wait time at the airport could drop significantly thanks to a new automated security kiosk developed by Nathan Twyman, assistant professor of business and information technology.

[Read More...]