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Creative chemistry

31 January 2008

Cardiff University has been awarded a major research grant to target technology for the conversion of methane to chemicals.

Methane is particularly attractive as a raw material because of the presence of large reserves of natural gas in many parts of the world, but the technology for the conversion of these reserves to chemicals and liquid fuels remains elusive.

The Cardiff School of Chemistry was selected from hundreds of international bids by leading universities and companies as part of the Dow Methane Challenge. The challenge was initiated by the Dow Chemical Company to identify collaborators and approaches in the area of methane conversion to chemicals.

"Success in this project has the potential to change the way we manufacture chemical intermediates in a revolutionary way," says Professor Graham Hutchings, leader of the Cardiff School of Chemistry team. "The direct oxidation of methane to methanol and other useful products represents the most important remaining grand challenge in catalysis."

Methane has resisted the attempts of chemists over the last century to directly react and selectively form other chemicals. Recognising the need for creative approaches, Dow Chemical took the unusual step of undertaking an open solicitation in the quest for innovative concepts. The awards to the multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary teams led by Cardiff and Northwestern which together total over $6.4M (£3.2M) mark the culmination of the selection process.

Charles Kresge, Dow Research & Development vice president said "Methane conversion is one of the most challenging areas in catalysis and we hoped the Methane Challenge would attract the highest caliber of research. Clearly it did, and we are excited by the chance to collaborate with truly world-leading teams."