Scientists from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have developed an innovative catalyst which is able to convert methane to methanol at room temperature, with an excellent conversion rate and fewer by-products.
Methanol is commonly a product used to make fuels, medicines and plastics and being able to convert methane into methanol at a lower temperature and with fewer by-products, is the breakthrough that many industries have been searching for. Methane is a stable molecule, so converting it to methanol at a lower temperature, will result in less carbon dioxide pollution from the reaction, a more energy efficient process and a more environmentally sustainable methanol production process. Overall, this will aid the search for green energy from natural gas, help decarbonise fuel, as well as plastic and medicine production.
The new process for converting methanol is much better than the usual process, which involves temperatures over 600 degrees Celsius, to break the carbon-hydrogen bonds, plus strong oxidising agents like fuming sulphuric acid, or plasma. This process is not as specific as the new one, so it generated too much and often excess by-products such as carbon dioxide. The next step of the new process involves the modified MO atoms, breaking down the oxygen molecules, whilst remaining at room temperature, to form highly reactive molybdenum-oxygen clusters, which react directly with methane.
The academy reported that, “It leverages low-cost, eco-friendly oxygen to facilitate the direct conversion of methane at room temperature,” The report continued, “In contrast to previous multi-step reactions with conversion rates lower than 1 per cent, this innovative catalytic system achieves direct oxidation with a remarkable conversion rate of 4.2 per cent at room temperature. Furthermore, the reaction generates few by-products, and product selectivity exceeds 99 per cent.”
This breakthrough has been so successful that the scientists are now reaching out to try and find catalysts that will also convert carbon monoxide, methanol and carbon dioxide into higher-value chemicals, whilst remaining at lower temperatures. At the moment, methanol is the main focus as it is in high demand, through its use in producing formaldehyde, dimethyl ether and acetic acid, making it a clean source of energy, which make it a fuel source which the marine shipping industry are interested in.
So far this method of producing methanol from natural gas has been a success as a recent study showed that China’s total methanol production capacity is more than 100 million tons and 10% of that is made from natural gas, primarily made of methane. Now the scientists are developing and improving new methods to create low-energy, low-carbon methanol and are looking to continue this development. As applying this in industrial environments has the potential to significantly lower energy consumption and reduce equipment maintenance demands, plus lower carbon emissions, through the efficiencies added to this process from the changes the scientists have been able to make.