DETROIT – An international team of researchers, led by scientists at the University of Manchester, has developed a fast and economical method of converting methane, or natural gas, into liquid methanol at ambient temperature and pressure. The method takes place under continuous flow over a photo-catalytic material using visible light to drive the conversion.
To help observe how the process works and how selective it is, the researchers used neutron scattering at the VISION instrument at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source.
The method involves a continuous flow of methane/oxygen-saturated water over a novel metal-organic framework (MOF) catalyst. The MOF is porous and contains different components that each have a role in absorbing light, transferring electrons and activating and bringing together methane and oxygen. The liquid methanol is easily extracted from the water. Such a process has commonly been considered “a holy grail of catalysis” and is an area of focus for research supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. Details of the team’s findings, titled “Direct photo-oxidation of methane to methanol over a mono-iron hydroxyl site,” are published in Nature Materials.
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