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A Green Fuel: Scientists Produce Methanol Using Air

Sabine Berger Autorin, Hemd & Hoodie

British chemists want to make industrial production more environmentally friendly by using an innovative method for manufacturing methanol.

Methanol is one of the most widely produced organic chemicals in the world:
In 2016, over a million tonnes of the highly flammable liquid were produced in Germany alone. However, methanol synthesis, which is essential to the production method, is a complex and energy-intensive process in which synthesis gas, made from fossil fuels such as coal or crude oil, is separated into hydrogen and carbon monoxide molecules at high pressure. This process is then reversed and the bonds between the molecules are reformed.

For decades, scientists have been researching alternative methods of producing methanol that are simpler and more energy efficient. It seems that a team from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute have finally made this long-awaited breakthrough. These chemists have developed a process that can convert methane into methanol through simple catalysis. The reaction requires only oxygen and hydrogen peroxide and can be performed at room temperature.

Sustainable Methanol for Industrial Applications

These substances are cheaper than synthesis gas and do not require the consumption of valuable raw materials. The new process also consumes a significantly smaller amount of energy. For these reasons, it has the potential to make industrial processes around the world cleaner and more environmentally friendly, explains Professor Graham Hutchings, Director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute. “We have already shown that gold nanoparticles supported by titanium oxide could convert methane to methanol,” says the chemist. “But we simplified the chemistry further and took away the titanium oxide powder. The results have been outstanding.”

Methanol can also be extracted using gold nanoparticles.
Methanol can also be extracted using gold nanoparticles.

The new process could also offer great advantages in terms of its practical application. For example, it means that it would no longer be necessary to convert the methanol into a liquid state for transportation and place it into sensitive pressurized containers that require extreme safety measures. Instead, the methanol can simply be produced where it is needed.

Professor Graham Hutchings from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute.
Professor Graham Hutchings from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute. Image: Cardiff University – Cardiff Catalysis Institute

The scientists’ breakthrough may also simplify the production process for plastics and chemicals: “Methanol is vital in manufacturing as it’s much more reactive than methane,” explains Professor Stuart Taylor. “So [it] can be more easily transformed into a wide range of fuels and chemicals.” It may be some time before the process can be used on a commercial scale. However, the scientists in Cardiff are convinced that it will have a positive domino effect on the industry.

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