Focus Area

1. Shale Gas Catalysis

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated proven U.S. reserves of natural gas and natural gas liquids as of December 31, 2014, to be 388.8 trillion cubic feet, an increase of 8.8 percent over the prior year’s estimate and nearly double that of 10 years earlier. This increase is primarily the result of the ability to extract hydrocarbons from shale deposits using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Production of natural gas and natural gas liquids from these reserves has also soared over the past decade and is forecast to continue to rise. In fact, EIA estimates that about 60% (about 15.8 trillion cubic feet) of dry natural gas was produced directly from shale and tight oil resources in the United States in 2016. As a result, the U.S. chemical industry is in the process of switching from naphtha, derived from crude oil, as its major feedstock to natural gas and natural gas liquids. In order to maximize the benefits and take advantage of today’s inexpensive source of natural gas and natural gas liquids, it is important to develop new and more efficient processes related to catalytic conversion of shale gas directly to higher value materials.

The shift from heavier petroleum-based feedstocks to lighter shale gas sources has also changed the landscape of chemical industry. For example, while the cost of ethylene has dropped, the prices of butadiene and aromatic chemicals such as benzene and toluene – all byproducts of naphtha/oil cracking to produce ethylene – have increased significantly as supplies have become constrained with the shift from naphtha to natural gas feedstocks. As a result, there is an increasing need for on-purpose, catalytically driven routes to convert natural gas liquids into these industrially important chemical intermediates.

In addition, the low cost and increased supply of shale gas in the United States provides an opportunity to discover and develop new catalysts and processes to enable the direct conversion of shale gas into value-added chemicals. The economic implications of developing advanced technologies to utilize and process gas and natural gas liquids for chemical production could be significant, as commodity, intermediate, and fine chemicals represent a higher-economic-value use of shale gas compared to its use as a fuel. NICE America is committed to the development of catalysts and processes for direct conversion of Shale Gas into high value chemicals, such as aromatics, olefins, and oxygenates.

2. Energy Internet

Access to affordable energy has been a major contributor to global economic growth while increasing the standard of living over the last century. The large scale development of today’s fossil fuel based centralized electric grid has been a key technology towards global development and welfare. However, several challenges face the electricity generation business in both the immediate and long term.

Currently, global electricity generation is responsible for the majority of CO2 emissions due to human activity, and the global energy demand is expected to continually increase and roughly double by 2050. To meet these demands, the power generation sector is undergoing a major transformation as economies and consumers move away from fossil energy-based centralized power systems towards a more highly distributed, low-carbon, renewable-energy based system. Two key enabling technologies required for this transformation are big data based controls (driven by increased digitization) and cost effective energy storage.

NICE America’s Energy Internet research is committed to the development and commercialization of the technologies necessary to transform today’s grid. These technologies include the addition of multiple generator and storage technologies, linked together with real time controls through digitization and communication to provide cost effective power in real time that meets demand and maintains grid stability.

3. Carbon Management

Under the Paris agreement, China has committed to reduce its CO2 footprint (in terms of carbon intensity per unit GDP) by 60-65% relative to 2005 levels by 2030. As one of the largest energy companies in the world, China Energy Group (formerly Shenhua and Guodian) operates over 220 GW of power generation and has a CO2 emissions footprint that is larger than most countries in the world.

The Carbon Management group at NICE America works with our team in China towards the goal of enabling CEG to affordably capture, store and/or utilize CO2 in China at greater than 100 MM ton/yr scale by 2030. This includes work in fleet optimization, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), and advanced power cycles, including the use of fuel cells. We also track developments in carbon management around the world to identify promising partnerships for commercial development in China.

We are working on a number of topics, including: (1) building tools to understand how to best optimize the performance of our power plant fleet in a carbon-constrained world; (2) identifying next-generation CO2 capture technologies, teaming with partners to determine how best to scale them effectively in China; and (3) researching new systems, components, and materials that have the potential to generate electricity from coal at over 50% efficiency with near-zero emissions.

4. Hydrogen Energy

Hydrogen is a clean secondary energy source and has enormous future in the areas of transportation, distributed power generation and renewable integration.  China Energy Group aims to create a cleaner energy system by linking its businesses through hydrogen. For example, hydrogen produced from curtailed wind could be used to power fuel cell vehicles or sent to the chemical plants of China Energy Group; the railroads and ships of China Energy Group could be used for hydrogen transportation. The key research and development areas are hydrogen production optimization, hydrogen storage and distribution, hydrogen fuel station equipment, fuel cell system development and applications. Our vision is to partner with ZEV vehicle developers, regulatory agencies, industry associations, codes and standards committees, hydrogen technology companies and hydrogen station developers globally to bring the next generation technology to commercial scale.

Current Projects include 1) Hydrogen pathway development with a focus on liquid hydrogen technology. 2) Hydrogen production from renewables (wind/water/solar) and clean coal to hydrogen with carbon capture. 3) Fuel cell evaluation platform, PEMFC and SOFC system integration and applications. 4) Development and commercialization of next generation hydrogen station equipment. We look to complete next-generation, vertically integrated hydrogen refueling station demonstration projects including hydrogen production, transportation, storage, zero emission vehicle fleets and megawatts-level fuel cell power generation in three to five years.