Scientists make methanol using air around us

7 September 2017

Gold abstract
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Scientists at Cardiff University have created methanol from methane using oxygen from the air.

Methanol is currently produced by breaking down natural gas at high temperatures into hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide before reassembling them – expensive and energy-intensive processes known as ‘steam reforming’ and ‘methanol synthesis.’

But researchers at Cardiff Catalysis Institute have discovered they can produce methanol from methane through simple catalysis that allows methanol production at low temperatures using oxygen and hydrogen peroxide.

Cleaner, greener industrial processes

The breakthrough, published today in Science, has major implications for cleaner, greener industrial processes worldwide.

Professor Graham Hutchings in laboratory

Professor Graham Hutchings, Director of Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said: “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...”

Prof Graham Hutchings FRS

“Commercialisation will take time, but our science has major implications for the preservation of natural gas reserves as fossil fuel stocks dwindle across the world.”

Professor Graham Hutchings, Regius Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute

“At present global natural gas production is ca. 2.4 billion tons per annum and 4% of this is flared into the atmosphere - roughly 100 million tons. Cardiff Catalysis Institute’s approach to using natural gas could use this "waste" gas saving CO2 emissions. In the US there is now a switch 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.”

Research of significant value

Dr. James J. Spivey, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Louisiana State University and Editor-in-Chief of Catalysis Today, said: "This research is of significant value to the scientific and industrial communities. The conversion of our shale resources into higher value intermediates like methanol provide new routes for chemical intermediates.”

Cardiff Catalysis Institute has a world-wide reputation for outstanding science. The Institute works with industry to develop new catalytic processes and promote the use of catalysis as a sustainable 21st century technology.

The paper - Aqueous Au-Pd colloids catalyze selective CH4 oxidation to CH3OH with O2 under mild conditions – is published in Science, the voice of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s oldest and largest general science organization.

Our state-of-the-art catalysis facility supports world leading research in chemical sciences.