A team of researchers have developed a method of converting methane directly into methanol and acetic acid for the first time. Previously, it was only possible to convert methane into chemicals in stages. The new technique involves using a gold catalyst to directly convert the methane, The Chemical Engineer reports.
The team is led by Cardiff University, who used a catalyst made from gold, and reacted methane with oxygen close to the catalyst. It is the first time that this had been attempted without the presence of a co-reductant. As the scientists predicted, methanol was produced, but unexpectedly, also acetic acid.
Both methanol and acetic acid have useful purposes, and previous methods of producing them were expensive and energy intensive. Methanol is used as a biofuel, and is a component in other chemicals. Acetic acid is used to make textile inks, pesticides, plastics, and pharmaceuticals.
Graham Hutchings, Regius Professor of Chemistry from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said: “The oxidation of methane, the main component of natural gas, to selectively form oxygenated chemical intermediates using molecular oxygen has been a long-standing grand challenge in catalysis.”
He added: “We have successfully demonstrated this for the very first time in this study, providing an important first step towards the creation of important fuels and chemicals in a simple and cost-effective way.”
Demand for methanol is likely to increase in the future, as the government continues to pursue its low-carbon fuel (LCF) strategy. Argus Media reports that a new consultation has begun on LFCs, and will conclude on 3 April. It aims to determine which production pathways should be prioritised, in order to reduce demand for fossil fuels.
Demand for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is expected to increase, with around 4-8% of the world’s supply being met with SAF by 2035.
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