Scientists make cheap and clean fuel from air

Researchers at Cardiff University discovered they can produce methanol from methane through simple catalysis, the addition of a substance called a catalyst which speeds up a chemical reaction. This allows methanol production at low temperatures using oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. Methanol is currently produced by breaking down natural gas at high temperatures into hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide before reassembling them.

It is an expensive and energy-intensive processes known as ‘steam reforming’ and ‘methanol synthesis. Professor Graham Hutchings, director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI), 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.

Around four per cent of this, roughly 100 million tons, is flared into the atmosphere, a process by which excess pressure is relieved through burning the gas during extraction. The CCI’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 Cardiff’s approach is also well suited to using this gas as it can enable it to be liquefied so it can be readily transported.

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