Washington, October 23 (ANI): Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill have taken an important step in converting methane gas to a liquid, potentially making it more useful as a fuel and as a source for making other chemicals.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is plentiful and is an attractive fuel and raw material for chemicals because it is more efficient than oil, produces less pollution and could serve as a practical substitute for petroleum-based fuels until renewable fuels are widely useable and available.
However, methane is difficult and costly to transport because it remains a gas at temperatures and pressures typical on the Earth's surface.
Now, UNC and UW scientists have moved closer to devising a way to convert methane to methanol or other liquids that can easily be transported, especially from the remote sites where methane is often found.
Converting methane into useful chemicals, including readily transported liquids, currently requires high temperatures and a lot of energy.
Catalysts that turn methane into other chemicals at lower temperatures have been discovered, but they have proven to be too slow, too inefficient or too expensive for industrial applications, according to Karen Goldberg, a UW chemistry professor.
Binding methane to a metal catalyst is the first step required to selectively break just one of the carbon-hydrogen bonds in the process of converting the gas to methanol or another liquid.
In their research paper, the researchers describe the first observation of a metal complex (a compound consisting of a central metal atom connected to surrounding atoms or molecules) that binds methane in solution.
This compound serves as a model for other possible methane complexes. In the complex, the methane's carbon-hydrogen bonds remained intact as they bound to a rare metal called rhodium.
According to Goldberg, the work should spur further advances in developing catalysts to transform methane into methanol or other liquids, although she noted that actually developing a process and being able to convert the gas into a liquid chemical at reasonable temperatures still is likely some distance in the future.
"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," she said.
"This gives us a clue as to what the first interaction between methane and metal must look like," she added. (ANI)