Siluria is a natural gas technology company. By converting natural gas, one of the world’s most abundant resources, directly into the world’s most demanded materials (such as ethylene), Siluria is the first company to provide an economically superior alternative to making chemicals, plastics and fuels from petroleum.
The technology came from the lab of well-known MIT researcher, Angela Belcher, who is working on using engineered viruses to create all kinds of materials for, say, better batteries and solar cells. Her idea is to make use of nature’s ability to build sophisticated structures, such as bones and shells, by giving organisms different ingredients – like a starter kit – to make the materials she wants.
In Siluria’s case, the virus is programmed to coat itself with a metal to create a tangle of nanowires. The nanowires serve as the catalyst for stitching together the single-carbon molecule of methane into a 2-carbon molecule for ethylene. A two-carbon molecule opens up possibilities for creating longer-chain molecules for a variety of common chemical compounds used to make a variety of goods.
The process, if commercialized, could replace an old technique that requires more expensive sources of material and produces more greenhouse gas emissions. A common way to produce ethylene today uses what’s called steam cracking, which uses super-hot steam to break down crude oil into simpler molecules like ethylene. But steam cracking creates a heavy carbon footprint because a lot of energy is needed to reach the desirable 900-degree Centigrade in order to break down the hydrocarbon.
Chemical companies have been looking for ways to reduce their reliance on crude oil as the feedstock, particularly given it’s a diminishing source. Natural gas isn’t an infinite resource either. There is a larger natural gas deposit than crude oil reserves inside Earth, and natural gas is cheaper. Siluria has been able to produce ethylene with temperatures around 300 degrees lower, which helps to minimize methane loss and during the conversion process.
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