Final Report: Novel Membrane Process to Utilize Dilute Methane Streams

EPA Contract Number: EPD10036
Title: Novel Membrane Process to Utilize Dilute Methane Streams
Investigators: Lin, Haiqing
Small Business: Membrane Technology and Research Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2010 through August 31, 2010
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Greenhouse Gases , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


Methane is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.  Various technologies and process improvements have been developed to curb methane emissions in the United States.  There still is, however, a lack of economically viable technology to utilize dilute methane streams containing 10-40 percent methane, in which the other component is primarily carbon dioxide.  The streams often are vented, contributing to the climate change effects associated with greenhouse gases.  Membrane Technology and Research, Inc. (MTR) estimated that the methane emissions from these streams could be up to 1.0 Tg (million metric tons) per year.  A key objective of this project is to develop a simple and low cost membrane process to convert dilute methane waste gas streams into fuel gas streams, thus reducing methane emissions.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

High-flux PolarisTM membranes with high carbon dioxide permeance and adequate carbon dioxide/methane and carbon dioxide/nitrogen selectivity have been reproducibly produced using MTR’s commercial-scale coating machines.  A bench-scale sweep/countercurrent spiral-wound module containing 0.7 m2 membrane area was prepared successfully.  Parametric tests were conducted on membrane stamps and the test module. The stamps and module all demonstrate the process improvements that can be obtained with an air sweep. 
An analysis of costs to upgrade dilute methane to fuel use using a membrane system (based on the Phase I bench-scale module performance) was conducted.  The payback time for the process is about 10-16 months.  The economics improve for dilute methane streams containing more than 20 percent methane.  The process is even more attractive if a credit for reduced greenhouse gas emissions is considered.  


The Phase I experimental work and the technical and economic analysis have demonstrated the feasibility of using a membrane system to convert dilute methane streams to fuel use by removing excess carbon dioxide.  The next step in moving this technology closer to commercialization is to demonstrate the membrane process in a real field application.  The focus of the Phase II work will be to demonstrate the enrichment of dilute methane streams using the proposed membrane approach in a small-scale field test.

The potential market for the proposed technology could be huge.  MTR performed preliminary market analyses for dilute methane streams produced in:  (1) old, closed municipal landfill plants, (2) natural gas purification plants for removing carbon dioxide, and (3) landfill gas operations for removal of VOCs, H2S, and siloxanes.
The uneconomically recoverable methane emissions from the landfill plants and carbon dioxide removal units total 1.0 Tg per year, valued at $200-300 million per year. Equipment costs to recover this amount of methane using membrane technology are estimated at about $150-350 million. Combining these costs with a $150 million market for VOCs, H2S, and siloxanes removal, the total market for the membrane technology under development could be $300-500 million.  Even if only a fraction of these units adopt MTR's technology to control their emissions and recover the methane vented, the total equipment market over a 10-15 year adoption period could easily reach $10-20 million/year.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, methane, greenhouse gases, GHG, global warming, methane emissions, landfill sites, natural gas, climate change, environment, membrane technology, fuel gas, methane streams, air quality, methane utilization

SBIR Phase II:

Novel Membrane Process to Utilize Dilute Methane Streams  | Final Report