Energy department funding experiments to fight methane with plasma, copper

The Energy Department division that has doled out billions to projects including a squid-skin inspired shirt to regulate body temperature is training its sights on a new target: reducing the emission of a powerful greenhouse gas from the oil, gas and coal industries. 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds experimental energy technology projects and is modeled after a military research arm, is awarding funds under a new program to reduce methane emissions. The chief component of natural gas, methane has more than 80 times the atmosphere-warming power of carbon dioxide in the first two decades after its release. 

The funding, $35 million in total, is being awarded to 12 projects. Among them is nearly $3 million to Texas A&M University for a project that would use plasma to reduce the emission of methane from large engines used by pipeline companies. It is also awarding $3.3 million to Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Advanced Cooling Technologies for a project involving a new 3D printing process to make combustors out of silicone carbine to make gas flares that destroy 99.5% of methane. Other projects include $2 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a copper-based catalyst that will be used to reduce methane emissions from coal mines. 

“We must adopt technologies to dramatically reduce these emissions,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement. “By creating new technologies, we are working to mitigate climate change and minimize the cost of methane abatement.” 

Granholm was poised to announce the funding during a visit Thursday to Precision Combustion, Inc., a North Haven, Connecticut-based manufacturer after a tour of the facility with state Governor Ned Lamont. The closely held manufacturer of emissions control equipment was slated to receive $3.7 million for technology designed to eliminate methane associated with coal production.

The funding is part of an assault on methane led by President Joe Biden, who has said reducing emissions of the heat-trapping gas is one of the most important steps that can be taken to curb global warming. The Biden administration last month announced a long-awaited EPA proposal stiffening requirements to plug leaks in oil and gas wells and an effort by the Agriculture Department to harness and sell methane. 

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