Scientists hoping to develop new energy resources have long pursued the goal of directly converting methane, a simple and abundant chemical found in natural gas, into a usable fuel such as methanol. Until now, scientists have required expensive-to-generate high temperatures to do this.
In a new study, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, Tufts University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory teamed up to explore the potential of rhodium-based catalysts for this conversion under milder conditions.
"Our work shows the potential of rhodium to enable this conversion under 'mild conditions' such as lower temperatures," said Argonne X-ray scientist Sungsik Lee. "Converting methane to methanol under mild conditions could have significant applications and present a breakthrough in catalysis."
"Our work shows the potential of rhodium to enable this conversion under 'mild conditions' such as lower temperatures." - Sungsik Lee, Argonne X-ray scientist
Methanol is a key feedstock for the production of chemicals, some of which are used to make products such as plastics, plywood and paints. Methanol also could potentially fuel vehicles or be reformed to produce high grade hydrogen for fuel cells.
The decades-long interest in finding efficient ways to convert methane to methanol has grown even stronger in recent years thanks to the abundance of methane found in U.S.-based natural gas.
However, the current method for producing methanol from methane involves a multi-step process that is neither efficient nor economical in small-scale applications.
In the study, published in Nature, the researchers developed a new way of converting methane to methanol using rhodium and tested the effectiveness of rhodium catalysts under varying conditions. The catalysts, prepared using relatively simple procedures, were used to better convert methane to methanol and acetic acid using oxygen (O2) and carbon monoxide (CO) under mild conditions.
"The direct conversion of methane to liquid methanol has been an unsolved problem in catalysis," said Lee. "Through the use of various testing facilities, including Argonne's Advanced Photon Source, we were able to provide new insights into the atomic-scale structure of these noble catalysts, which are atomically dispersed rhodium complexes rather than nanoparticles."
In a commentary in Nature, based on the study, Ive Hermans, chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted that the research "links homogeneous organometallic chemistry ... with solid-phase (heterogeneous) catalysis, and illustrates the importance of understanding catalysts at the atomic scale."
In the study, the research team suggested that further research and testing will illuminate the mechanism and reaction pathways that will guide new methane conversion catalyst design.
"While our work is still far from commercial application, it may inspire research directions for new methane-converting catalysts," said Lee.
The Nature paper is titled "Mild oxidation of methane to methanol or acetic acid on supported isolated rhodium catalysts." Argonne's Advanced Photon Source is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. The research was funded by DOE's ARPA-E program.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.
Jared Sagoff | EurekAlert!
New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs
18.04.2019 | University of Hawaii at Manoa
New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection
18.04.2019 | Polytechnique Montréal
A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter
A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.
Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...
The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks
Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...
Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.
Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...
Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna
A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
09.04.2019 | Event News
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences
18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences