Energy

New catalyst converts methane into methanol at room temperature

New catalyst converts methane ...
Scientists have come up with a new way to convert methane in natural gas into methanol, using far less energy
Scientists have come up with a new way to convert methane in natural gas into methanol, using far less energy
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Scientists have come up with a new way to convert methane in natural gas into methanol, using far less energy
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Scientists have come up with a new way to convert methane in natural gas into methanol, using far less energy

Methanol has wide-ranging potential as a cleaner fuel for powering advanced automobiles or producing plastic materials or other chemicals, and recently we're seeing how the production side of things could prove a boon for the environment, too. Scientists at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) have now found a catalyst that allows the methane in natural gas to be converted into methanol in a far less energy-intensive way than current solutions.

While natural gas produces around 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels when it is burned, it is still a notable contributor to climate change, pumping around 1.6 gigatons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere from the US in 2019, according to the UIC team. Methane serves as the primary component in natural gas, and by converting it into clean-burning methanol scientists see a greener way forward for this resource, though this involves high heat and pressure in a process that itself generates substantial carbon emissions.

“Researchers have been interested in ways to convert methane to methanol at ambient temperatures to sidestep all the heat and pressure that is currently required in industrial processes to perform this conversion,” says Meenesh Singh, author of the new research.

The reason that such intense heat and pressure is needed for this process is because the hydrocarbon bonds within the methane need to first be broken. The UIC team has now identified a new catalyst made from titanium and copper that enables this to take place at room temperature instead, needing only a small amount of electricity to kick off the chemical reaction.

“We have been able to reduce the temperature of the industrial process from more than 200 °C (392 °F) to room temperature, which is around 20 °C (68 °F),” says study author Aditya Prajapati.

Because this new technique doesn't require complex, industrial-scale machinery to produce the high heat and pressure, the researchers say the system can be set up easily and cheaply. They've filed a patent for the technology, and believe that a small, portable system could produce several liters of methanol a day.

“Our process doesn’t need to be centralized,” Singh says. “It can be implemented in a space as small as a van and is portable for distributed utilization of natural gas and manufacturing of methanol.”

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Illinois Chicago

6 comments
Winterbiker
It would be interesting to know how much it costs ($ + energy+ waste products) to create the catalyst; how long the catalyst lasts and how much it costs to regenerate or dispose of the catalyst.
Expanded Viewpoint
How can burning natural gas produce only 50 to 60% less CO2 than other Carbon based fuels?? If there are the same amount of Carbon atoms in various Carbon based fuels being oxidized, then the same amount of CO2 will be created, if the air/fuel ratio is at stoichiometry. The length of the molecular chains of Hydrogen and Carbon atoms determine how fluid that substance will be. It might be a wax, or it might be gaseous. Any time that a Hydrocarbon is burned, all that you get is CO2, and water vapor, if you have a perfect combustion process going on.

Randy
jerryd
Methanol from NG is worse polluting than NG by itself. Now if this can use biomethane it might be good.
But saying methanol is a good fuel is not true. At most it's a fuel that can be made to work as only 40% of the energy of gasoline and poisonous.
Jinpa
Every farm in the country with cattle in a barn could use this process, and probably could use the product on site. Next trick: collect it on the hoof.
Lamar Havard
Now if they can just reduce it in size enough to make it wearable, they'll really have something.
James Horton
We now have a way to convert a majority of the natural gas coming out of the shale oil fields instead of flaring it all! And it can be done even onsite. This is fantastic news. Methanol can be used in proton exchange fuel cells to create electricity directly, or burned conventionally for steam generation. If nothing else, it makes it easier to transport than natural gas.