Using Microwaves To Make Money From Pollution

Russian technology may help the U.S. oil and gas industries overcome an environmental headache--and save hundreds of millions of dollars. Russia's Kurchatov Institute in Moscow has developed a way to use low-energy microwaves to break down hydrogen sulfide, a noxious gas that is a waste product of refining and a contaminant in natural gas. The process yields sulfur, which can be recovered and sold, and hydrogen gas, which can be used as a fuel. Now, oil refiners and gas producers can recover sulfur, but there's no technology yet to recover the hydrogen.

Through a new joint research venture, American scientists will help the Russians commercialize the process. The U.S. team consists of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, Wavemat Inc., a Plymouth (Mich.) microwave equipment manufacturer, and Acid Rain Control Inc., a Detroit startup. Argonne scientist John Harkness estimates that if every U.S. refinery used the process, the U.S. would save the equivalent of 70 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year.

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