Scientists have created methanol from methane using oxygen from the air, in an ‘outstanding’ breakthrough.
The technique uses freely available air, inexpensive chemicals and an energy efficient production process.
The discovery has major implications for cleaner, greener industrial processes worldwide.
Researchers at Cardiff University discovered they can produce methanol from methane through simple catalysis, the addition of a substance called a catalyst which speeds up a chemical reaction.
This allows methanol production at low temperatures using oxygen and hydrogen peroxide.
Methanol is currently produced by breaking down natural gas at high temperatures into hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide before reassembling them.
It is an expensive and energy-intensive processes known as ‘steam reforming’ and ‘methanol synthesis.’
Professor Graham Hutchings, director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI), said: ‘The quest to find a more efficient way of producing methanol is a hundred years old.
‘Our process uses oxygen, effectively a ‘free’ product in the air around us , and combines it with hydrogen peroxide at mild temperatures which require less energy.
‘We have already shown that gold nanoparticles supported by titanium oxide could convert methane to methanol.
‘But we simplified the chemistry further and took away the titanium oxide powder.
‘The results have been outstanding.
‘Commercialisation will take time, but our science has major implications for the preservation of natural gas reserves as fossil fuel stocks dwindle across the world.’
At present, global natural gas production is approximately 2.4 billion tons per year.
Around four per cent of this, roughly 100 million tons, is flared into the atmosphere, a process by which excess pressure is relieved through burning the gas during extraction.
The CCI’s approach to using natural gas could use this ‘waste’ gas saving CO2 emissions.
In the US there is now a switch to shale gas and Cardiff’s approach is also well suited to using this gas as it can enable it to be liquefied so it can be readily transported.
Dr James J Spivey, professor of chemical engineering at Louisiana State University and editor-in-chief of trade publication Catalysis Today, added: ‘This research is of significant value to the scientific and industrial communities.’
‘The conversion of our shale resources into higher value intermediates like methanol provide new routes for chemical intermediates.’
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