Scientists have developed an efficient new way to convert methane into methanol at room temperature. The technique could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a much cleaner way to make green fuels.
An interesting question is whether this type of chemical process could create a new category of lighting for industrial inputs. This would not be about visually lighting a chemical plant. It would be an industrial input, analogous to horticultural grow lights being an input to commercial agricultural facilities. This could have all kinds of implications for customized spectral tuning, durability requirements, etc.
The conversion of methane to methanol at room temperature is especially important because methane is 34 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 is, even though humans emit much more CO2. Industrial waste methane is typically burned in flares, which creates CO2 emissions.
For the new study, researchers at the University of Manchester and Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed a new technique using a metal-organic framework (MOF) as a catalyst. These structures are extremely porous, and in this case, those pores contain a variety of components that each play a role in the catalytic process.
Exposing the MOF to sunlight triggers a chemical reaction that converts the gaseous methane into liquid methanol, which can then be easily extracted from the water.
In this case, the components held in the MOF absorb the light and generate electrons, which are then passed on to the oxygen and methane flowing through, causing them to combine to form methanol.
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