The global transition to renewable energy is paramount to climate change mitigation. The world’s populations and industries continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels—and likely will for decades as low-carbon production, transmission, and utilization alternatives reach scale. In the interim, reducing, capturing, and sequestering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be critical to securing a sustainable future for all.
The methane and flaring problem
One often overlooked yet significant source of Earth-warming emissions is methane. While carbon dioxide (CO2) gets most of the attention, methane (CH4) accounts for roughly 20% of all global emissions and has a global warming potential 28 to 34 times greater than CO2. Measured over a 20-year time span, this ratio swells to 84 to 86 times.
Methane emissions originate from various agricultural and energy sources, but one of the largest is the “flaring” of associated gases in oil and gas (O&G) production. Flaring, which involves burning excess natural gas during refinement, is primarily intended to depressurize O&G equipment, avoid explosions, and combust (and thus hopefully limit) methane emissions.
Until recently, flaring was believed to be an effective solution for burning off excess methane from O&G operations. A recent study published in Science, however, shatters this belief, indicating that global methane emissions from flaring may be as much as five times greater than previously estimated.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), non-emergency flaring from O&G operations in 2021 alone released 143 billion cubic meters of natural gas, equivalent to 240 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), into Earth’s atmosphere. This volume is on the order of the total annual GHG emissions of all of Spain.
Why M2X Energy?
The Autodesk Foundation is excited to support M2X Energy as part of our Energy & Materials portfolio. Established as a Breakthrough Energy Ventures spinout in 2020, the company is reshaping how methane waste is treated and how fuels and chemicals are made with the goal of minimizing gas flaring and reducing its climate impact.
M2X Energy is a process intensification company, innovating to down-scale traditional chemical processes using mechanical systems. Its modular waste gas-to-liquid technology converts methane gases into valuable, fungible commodities that can be sold. In that way, M2X provides practical economic value from what has historically been an O&G waste.
The M2X system consists of two distinct phases. First, flared methane is captured and converted to hydrogen-rich syngas using an internal combustion engine (ICE). Then, the resulting syngas is converted to methanol and other chemicals using an automated and intensified catalytic hydrogenation process. Taken together, M2X offers a compelling, modular, and easily integrated additive to existing energy production processes.
The team is following an aggressive commercialization timeline, with the goal of deploying a fully operational production unit in the field in early 2023.
We are eager to leverage Autodesk’s resources, industry expertise and talent, and industry networks to support M2X in optimizing and scaling its climate technology for both onshore and offshore applications. M2X is using AutoCAD, Inventor, and Vault to design, build, and scale its integrated system—a production-ready product capable of addressing 90% of all methane flared from current O&G operations.
“Autodesk is a terrific partner for a startup like M2X Energy,” said Anthony Dean, M2X Energy’s COO. “We are benefitting from a broad range of Autodesk support, including software access, enrolling a talented engineer in the Autodesk Tech Leadership Development Program, participating in the Engineering for Change (E4C) Fellowship program with an engineer in Ecuador, and the pro bono program where Autodesk marketing experts are helping shape our external communications. These in-kind programs support our efforts to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.”
A successful M2X ensures that today’s energy industry, which serves a critical role in global economic development and growth, can transition to decarbonization with the speed and scale necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change.
Learn more about how low-carbon innovations can fight the negative impacts of climate change in the Autodesk Foundation’s impact brief.