Terraform's innovative methane e-fuel

Terraformer is Terraform’s innovative methane e-fuel product, designed to produce cheap methane (natural gas) from sunlight and air. The Terraformer is a carbon-neutral drop-in successor to drilling for fossil fuels. The methane fuel is best described as “synthetic methane” The system relies on a number of innovations.

  • Cheap electrolysers are 10 times cheaper than existing electrolyzers.
  • Ambient temperature process
  • Direct Air Capture. Currently, existing and proposed DAC are too energy intensive
  • Novel catalyst
Terraform's innovative methane e-fuel

Challenging Business Case

TechCrunch in May 2023 reports on the technology and business model. Primarily, Terraform’s technology is that the methane from this process directly substitutes for extractive methane. At power plants. Into gas lines. It does not change the fuel source and all the transport and shipping issues that H2 has. Instead of using vast amounts of solar to produce H2, the vast amounts of solar are used to produce methane and methane is a drop in replacement for existing mined/extracted methane.

My take is that it is hydrogen that is at risk. Methane is 3 times the energy density of H2. The electrolyzers make H2 and reportedly at 2 orders of magnitude cheaper than existing electrolyzers. Coupling with DACS to get CO2 from low concentrations of CO2 rather than high-density waste streams is a novel approach. Modular means it can be co-located to end-users, and use existing gas pipelines and shipping systems.

Simple Modular System

Terraform's innovative methane e-fuel or synthetic methane from renewable energy
Terraform’s system layout from https://terraformindustries.wordpress.com/2023/06/26/the-terraformer-mark-one/

Cheap Electrolyzers

The company says their electrolysers are about $100,000 for about 1 MW of electrolysers. Normally electrolysers alone would be over $1m. IEA electrolyzer report says that CAPEX costs for alkaline are normally about $500 to $1400 per kWh (or $ 0.5 million to $1.4 million per MW. PEM are $1100 to $1800 per kW. Research programs by FFI, Plug Power are all trying to get 50% reductions in cost.

Terraform reported in May 2023 achieving a target current density of 200 mA/cm^2,

Terraform’s innovative methane e-fuel Features

  • Direct air capture provides the CO2. About 3 MWh of energy for 1T of CO2
  • Electrolyzers provide the H2
  • A novel catalyst creates CH4 from the H2 and CO2 in a chemical reactor, sometimes called a methanation reactor, to make natural gas. Terraformer calls it a Sabatier reactor
  • A solar 1MW system powers the DAC and conversion system – using DC (not inverters) thereby reducing costs.
  • The economic payback time is based on power utilisation between 0.2 & 1
  • The system powers down at night. The system could use renewable energy from wind and batteries.
  • The financial model is a 5 year design life and at the end of the life is recycled. They claim the could extend life, but that increases costs.
  • 32% throughput efficiency. For 100 joules of solar in, get out 30j of heating methane

A 1GW solar array provides sufficient energy to produce 1000 cubic feet of natural gas per hour of operation. At an optimized 25% utilization, typical for utility scale solar arrays, would produce 6000 cubic feet/day. In a site with 2190 hours per year, one Terraformer could produce over 2 million cubic feet of natural gas.

At $10/Mcf sale price and $54/Mcf for IRA PTCs (45V, 45Q, 45E) each unit produces up to $150,000 of annual revenue.

Global Replacement of Gas Extraction

Terraform proposes this technology replaces existing fossil methane gas mining (fracking included). Batteries, wind and solar could replace gas by 2050 as modelled by RMI.

A self-funding global fleet of 400 million Terraformers, rolled out over the next two decades, will provide all of humanity with permanent unconditional energy abundance for the first time in history, completing the mission of the industrial revolution. Take the cheapest, most abundant energy there is. Capture carbon from the atmosphere, convert it to fuel. Displace drilling, leave carbon in the deep crust. Solve energy insecurity. Make fuel cheaper, clean, green.

From Terraform https://terraformindustries.wordpress.com/2023/06/26/the-terraformer-mark-one/

Fossil Fuel Tipping Points

RMI fossil fuel peak and decline
RMI – https://rmi.org/insight/the-energy-transition-narrative/

Further Comments on Social Media

The commentary on Twitter is mixed.

  • Much of the finance model is built on the taxes in the IRA of the USA.
  • E.g. 1MW solar array cost ~$1M
  • For ~14% return / 7 year ROI.
  • The $124k revenue is PTC
  • At $2.3k gas sales, then if gas dropped to $1/Mcf, the ROI drops to 11% over 9 years?