Cardiff University Scientists Create Methanol Using Oxygen from the Air

Science

Cardiff University has published in Science — the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — that a team of scientists from its Catalysis Institute have discovered an easy way to produce methanol from methane using oxygens from the air around us. To-date, methanol is produced by breaking down natural gas at high temperatures into hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide prior to reconstructing them – an energy-intensive and expensive processes called ‘methanol synthesis’ and ‘steam reforming.’

The new process, which is being hailed as a breakthrough, uses a simple catalysis that that lets methanol be produced at low temperatures using hydrogen peroxide and oxygen — an entirely cleaner and greener method that has huge implications for global industrial processes.
Professor Graham Hutchings, Regius Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, explained in a statement that “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…”

The Cardiff Catalysis Institute works with industry to develop new catalytic processes and promote the use of catalysis as a sustainable 21st century technology. According to Hutchings, while commercialization of their latest breakthrough will take time, the results have key inferences for the preservation of natural gas reserves as the world’s fossil fuel stocks dwindle.

Currently, global natural gas production is ca. 2.4 billion tons per annum, 4 percent of which is flared into the atmosphere — roughly 100 million tons. The Institute’s approach to using natural gas could utilize this “waste” gas saving CO2 emissions. According to Hutchings, there is currently a shift in the U.S. “to shale gas, and our approach is well suited to using this gas as it can enable it to be liquefied so it can be readily transported.”

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