Turning “waste” natural gas that’s now simply flared off at many oil wells into useful ethanol and methanol – and at an attractive price — is now possible, thanks to technology developed by a Michigan company.

Gas Technologies LLC, based in Walloon Lake, is demonstrating the GasTechno process in a field-scale unit that fits in a 20-foot-long trailer.  Their new commercial unit will be in a 40-foot-long trailer.

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At an oil and gas processing plant in southern Michigan, Gas Technologies is turning pipeline natural gas with high levels of nitrogen into high-quality methanol and ethanol that burns with a clear blue flame.

GasTechno CEO and founder Walter Breidenstein said southern Michigan oil wells can bring up as much as 25 percent nitrogen in their gas, which makes the gas very difficult to sell – so it is often flared, meaning it’s simply burned off, with a special exemption to the no-flare policy issued by the state Department of Environmental Quality, causing environmental concern.

The GasTechno process converts a variety of feedstocks into methanol using a simple, low-maintenance, single-step process. It can use low-quality natural gas, landfill gas, biogas, biomethane, flared gas, coal bed methane and coal mine methane and convert it to methanol and other higher-value chemicals at a capital cost that’s 50 to 70 percent cheaper than its competition.

Unlike that competition, the GasTechno process requires no syngas production, does not use a catalyst, and is easily scalable – large or small.

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Breidenstein said the product produced by the GasTechno test trailer was a blended methanol and ethanol product ready for further distillation and sale. He pointed out that the United States now imports about 80 percent of its methanol, and that Michigan has several large industrial users of methanol, including Dow Corning and Georgia-Pacific. Methanol is used to make plastics for automobile manufacturers and building materials for construction — both important industries in Michigan. He said the GasTechno process can insulate Michigan companies from price spikes in methanol.

To view a video of their northern Michigan test unit in progress, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LceKO0fucDc. They plan to release a new video shortly on the southern Michigan in field demonstration.

Breidenstein said last week’s demonstration field test produced the highest quality burning samples yet seen in the company’s existence. And, he said, “The video footage we have will make even the hardest skeptic take second notice what it means to have a single step methane-to-methanol process in the field operating … we know what we have done in the chemical kinetics field, and we could not be more thankful.”

Specifically, with a feed rate of 150,000 cubic feet of gas per day, Breidenstein estimates the process could produce about 22 barrels of product per day, and generate a combined value between $53 and $133 per barrel.  The process can be more profitable than crude oil, and most importantly taking a wasted flared product to reduce carbon and methane emissions.

And, he said, the GasTechno process accomplishes its chemical transformation at a small fraction of the cost of competing technologies now being funded by the government and investors in Silicon Valley. He said the company will continue to fine-tune its processes with updated software and new controls.

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More on the company at www.gastechno.com.