Researchers in Northern Ireland have developed a new technique that they say will reduce the carbon dioxide content of natural gas while also cutting processing costs.

The method, developed by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, uses a mixture of water and ionic liquids (salts that are liquid under ambient conditions) to remove carbon dioxide from raw natural gas extracted from natural reservoirs under the sea.

This process could potentially reduce the global environmental and economic costs of purifying natural gas. According to the research team, in comparison to current conventional ‘amine’ purifying systems, which use volatile and corrosive materials, the new ionic liquid system is safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

Dr. David Wassell, who led the team at the Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre, explained: “Using ionic liquids to remove the carbon dioxide from natural gas could have significant impact on the gas processing industry, particularly with the promise of using the carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. It could make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental impact caused by this energy source.”

The technology is compact enough to be utilized on off-shore platforms or installed at land-based gas-processing plants, the researchers said.

Once captured, the carbon dioxide may be stored, reprocessed or used for enhanced oil recovery.

The research was carried out in partnership with Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas. A paper on the team’s findings has been published in the journal Green Chemistry.