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Found: The ‘holy grail of catalysis’—turning methane into methanol under ambient conditions using light


An international team of researchers, led by scientists at the University of Manchester, has developed a fast and economical method of converting methane, or natural gas, into liquid methanol at ambient temperature and pressure. The method takes place under continuous flow over a photo-catalytic material using visible light to drive the conversion.

Found: The 'holy grail of catalysis' — turning methane into methanol under ambient conditions using light
Credit: ORNL/Jill Hemman

The method involves a continuous flow of methane/oxygen-saturated water over a novel metal-organic framework (MOF) catalyst. The MOF is porous and contains different components that each have a role in absorbing light, transferring electrons and activating and bringing together methane and oxygen. The liquid methanol is easily extracted from the water. Such a process has commonly been considered “a holy grail of catalysis” and is an area of focus for research supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. Details of the team’s findings, titled “Direct photo-oxidation of methane to methanol over a mono-iron hydroxyl site,” are published in Nature Materials.

Naturally occurring methane is an abundant and valuable fuel, used for ovens, furnaces, water heaters, kilns, automobiles and turbines. However, methane can also be dangerous due to the difficulty of extracting, transporting and storing it.

Methane gas is also harmful to the environment when it is released or leaks into the atmosphere, where it is a potent greenhouse gas.

Industry has long sought an economical and efficient way to convert methane into methanol, a highly marketable and versatile feedstock used to make a variety of consumer and industrial products. This would not only help reduce methane emissions, but it would also provide an economic incentive to do so.

Methanol is a more versatile carbon source than methane and is a readily transportable liquid. It can be used to make thousands of products such as solvents, antifreeze and acrylic plastics; synthetic fabrics and fibers; adhesives, paint and plywood; and chemical agents used in pharmaceuticals and agrichemicals. The conversion of methane into a high-value fuel such as methanol is also becoming more attractive as petroleum reserves dwindle.

The complete article is available at Phys.org.

This sounds good, but the devil will be in the details: throughput (output per hour per square meter), efficiency (energy or chemistry), required reactant purity, scalability, ease (cost) of making the catalyst, etc. If I got a nickel for every "breakthrough" I read about in solar energy over the past 45 years, I'd be modestly wealthier today. Most of these breakthroughs never pan out due to engineering difficulties, costs, limitations, etc. Not to throw a wet blanket on this, but while we fund ongoing research, we need to be realistic and clear-eyed. Fasteddious
Useful, methanol is a fuel as well as a feedstock, and can be used in fuel cells. kairosfocus
Does this mean I can eat hamburgers and not feel guilty? jerry
The link is broken: this is the correct link: https://phys.org/news/2022-06-holy-grail-catalysisturning-methane-methanol.html For those interested in this, no they don't mention going to to work with ethane. Bob O'H
Well this is great news and seem very promising AaronS1978

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