At room temperature, a new catalyst transforms methane to methanol

Mar, 2021 - By WMR

At room temperature, a new catalyst transforms methane to methanol

Scientists at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) have discovered a catalyst that allows natural gas methane to be refined into methanol with much less energy over conventional methods.

Methanol has a lot of potential as a safer fuel for advanced cars or for making plastics and other chemicals, and users have recently seen how the manufacturing side of things could be beneficial to the atmosphere as well. Scientists have devised a new method for converting methane from natural gas into methanol that needs much less energy. Although natural gas releases 50 to 60% less carbon dioxide over other fossil fuels when burnt, it is also a major contributor to climate change, according to the UIC team, pumping about 1.6 gigatons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in 2019. Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and scientists believe that turning it to clean-burning methanol would provide a greener future for this fuel, however, this method requires a lot of heat and pressure and produces a lot of carbon emissions.

“Researchers have been interested in ways to transform methane to methanol at room temperature to avoid all of the heat and pressure that is currently needed in industrial processes,” says Meenesh Singh, the study's lead author.

The hydrocarbon bonds within the methane must first be dissolved, which necessitates the use of such high heat and pressure in this process. The UIC team has now found a new titanium and copper catalyst that allows this to happen at room temperature, with just a small amount of electricity needed to start the chemical reaction. The researchers argue that due to this new technique does not need to sophisticated, industrial-scale equipment to generate high heat and pressure, the device can be set up rapidly and inexpensively. They've applied for a patent and claim that a compact, portable device could produce multiple liters of methanol every day.

“We don't need to centralise our process,” Singh says. “It can be implemented in a room as small as a van and is compact for dispersed natural gas use and methanol production.”

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