Microplasma Ball Reactor for Liquid Hydrocarbon Conversion



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As the world?s light oil reserves diminish, the use of alternative fuels is becoming more of a necessity. In order to make use of alternative fuels, alternative processes must be developed. The goal of this research is to convert long, complex chain liquid hydrocarbons into shorter, simpler chains. This is a method for converting heavy oils into lighter oils. The method used for this non-conventional processing uses a microplasma in order to initiate a cracking reaction and break up hydrocarbon chains.

A novel reactor was designed and tested with this application in mind. A high voltage power supply was hooked up to two parallel electrodes with a small metal ball trapped between them. Because the metal ball is a charged particle, the high electric field generated by the electrodes accelerates the ball toward the electrode of opposite charge. Right before contact between the ball and electrode happens; a small plasma discharge is created as the charge transfers between the ball and electrode. The ball, now of the opposite charge, is accelerated back to the original electrode. This process repeats to create a bouncing ball that produces rapid microplasma discharges which are used as input energy for the hydrocarbon cracking process.

This process was used to create a reactor with many balls bouncing in parallel for two separate applications. This reactor was first used to process JP-8, military jet fuel, and convert it to a propane rich mixture. The processing of JP-8 was able to produce a gaseous product that is up to 13% C_(3) hydrocarbons by mass. Second, the reactor was adapted in order to process very heavy crude oils. These oils are very viscous and electrically conductive making them difficult to work with. By plasma processing at elevated temperature during treatment, permanent viscosity reduction by up to 40% was demonstrated by shortening the average hydrocarbon chain length. In order to increase the effectiveness of the processing a pressure vessel was used in order to keep lighter hydrocarbons in liquid phase. The producing of C_(3) hydrocarbons from JP-8 and the lowering of the viscosity of heavy oil is evidence of reduction in hydrocarbon chain length.