A group of American researchers, based at the University of Washington (UW), and at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (UNC) has recently managed to take an important step forward in its quest of finding a method of converting methane gas into a liquid fuel. The innovation could see a lot more uses for methane, as well as facilities brought to the production processes related to obtaining other chemicals as well. The find is detailed in the October 23 issue of the top journal Science.
The reason why methane is so valued is because it can double as a very potent fuel, while at the same time generating a lot less pollution than oil, coal or natural gas. Some experts believe that the intermediary development step in our society, as we move from dirty fossil fuels to green energy, will be heavily reliant on this chemical, one of the main components of natural gas. UW Chemistry Professor Karen Goldberg explains that, when methane is burnt, energy, water and carbon dioxide are produced.
“The idea is to turn methane into a liquid in which you preserve most of the carbon-hydrogen bonds so that you can still have all that energy. This gives us a clue as to what the first interaction between methane and metal must look like,” Goldberg adds. Methane is essentially composed of a single carbon atom, bound to four hydrogen atoms. When burnt, all the four connections in the material break, releasing its individual components into the oxidation reaction.
“The next step is to use knowledge gained from this discovery to formulate other complexes and conditions that will allow us to catalytically replace one hydrogen atom on methane with other atoms and produce liquid chemicals such as methanol,” UNC Chemistry Professor Maurice Brookhart adds. Methane-to-methanol transformation technologies are the most sough-after, as they are the most convenient form of transformed methane, from most standpoints.