Comprehensive coverage

An important step forward in converting methane gas to liquid fuel

Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of North Carolina have developed an important step in converting methane gas into a liquid, a possible step in making this gas more useful as fuel and as a source for making other chemicals.

Methane (Wikimedia Commons)
Methane (Wikimedia Commons)

Methane, the main component of natural gas, exists in abundance and is a sought-after target for use as a fuel and as a raw material for chemicals since it is more efficient than oil, produces less pollution and can be used as a suitable substitute for petroleum-based fuels until fuels from renewable sources are available and applicable.

However, the transportation of methane gas is expensive and complex since it remains in its gaseous state at the temperatures and pressures that exist on Earth.

Now, the researchers managed to get closer to the solution - a way to convert the gaseous methane into (liquid) methanol or into other liquids that can be transported more easily, especially from the remote sites where the methane is discovered. The findings were published in the scientific journal Science.

Methane is important because of its high-energy carbon-hydrogen bonds, which consist of a carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms. The gas does not react easily with other substances so it usually burns as fuel. Combustion breaks all four carbon-hydrogen bonds and results in the formation of carbon dioxide and water.

The conversion of methane into useful chemicals, including liquids that are easily transported, currently requires high temperatures and the consumption of a lot of energy. Indeed, catalysts have been developed that convert methane to other chemicals at lower temperatures, but their use has proven to be slow, ineffective and too expensive for industrial applications.

Binding methane to a metal catalyst is the first step necessary to selectively break one of the carbon-hydrogen bonds in the process that converts the gas to methanol or other liquids. In their publication, the researchers describe the first-ever observation of a metallic conjugate (a compound containing a central metal atom bound to other atoms or molecules around it) binding to methane in solution. This compound serves as a model for other possible methane conjugates. In this conjugation, the carbon-hydrogen bonds of the methane remain unchanged while binding to a rare metal called rhodium.

This research will accelerate further advances in the development of catalysts for converting methane to methanol or other liquids, the researchers note, although the development of a practical process to convert a gas to a liquid chemical at reasonable temperatures is still far from imminent realization, the researchers admit.

"The idea is to convert methane into a liquid so that most of the carbon-hydrogen bonds are still preserved and in fact most of the energy stored in it is also preserved," explains one of the researchers. "The finding provides us with a clue as to what the first step required in the reaction between the methane and the metal looks like."

One of the researchers, a professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina, points out that the carbon-hydrogen bonds are extremely strong and difficult to dissolve, but with methane-dissolved conjugates it becomes easier." "The next step is to use the knowledge gained from this discovery to develop conjugates and other conditions that will allow us to catalytically convert one of the hydrogen atoms in methane to another group or atom and obtain liquid chemicals such as methanol," he notes.

The news from the University of Washington

6 תגובות

  1. It won't fit existing cars, it's a completely different type of engine and fuel tanks. Electric is better for cars, but for airplanes it can be a good solution, because batteries do not currently reach the energy density that would be practical for large airplanes, and hydrogen is less convenient to work with.

  2. Thanks for the replies, so it seems that this discovery, provided it goes into mass production, will be very quickly integrated into the industry as it will fit existing cars and is also less polluting.

  3. Water is also formed in the burning of gasoline and diesel. This water is emitted in a gaseous state from the exhaust pipe ("exhaust").

  4. Even in the combustion of hydrogen, one of the byproducts is water that simply pours out of the engine through the exhaust pipe

  5. If, during combustion, water is emitted in addition to fuel oil, how is the car supposed to be fueled with this? Will there be any water drainage from the engine or will it evaporate from the heat and come out as steam? And how does this affect the efficiency of the energy?

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.