Scientist shines laser light on methane in pursuit of clean fuel

October 22, 2009,

An abundant greenhouse gas could someday help clean up the earth. Converting methane to liquid methanol could produce clean, low-cost fuel and prevent the potent greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. Exploiting methane in this way could also produce a hydrogen source for fuel cells and yield other industrial applications.

The key to taming , and synthesizing it in the laboratory, rests in identifying the starter link in methane's armor chain of hydrocarbons.

A National Science Foundation grant is supporting a novel approach using to convert methane into methanol. Roger Dube, research professor at Rochester Institute of Technology's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, won the $79,000 exploratory research award to apply optical catalytic conversion to the problem. Dube will use finely tuned laser light, not heat, to reduce the barrier to reaction in methane and to create longer chain molecules or fuels. The process works without the need for heat or a catalytic surface. This is important because heat consumes some of the fuel stock and decreases overall conversion efficient. Catalysts get dirty and have to be replaced or cleaned, both expensive and time-consuming propositions.

"Successful photo-catalysis of methane would theoretically produce clean fuels and remove that otherwise would simply be released into the atmosphere," Dube says. "If successful, the technology could have broad impact in other fields of chemistry."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane—the odorless component of natural gas—remains in the atmosphere for approximately nine to 15 years. To make matters worse, methane beats carbon dioxide in efficiently trapping heat in the atmosphere. Sources of the gas range from the expected—such as cattle, coal mining and natural gas and petroleum production—to the somewhat unexpected practice of rice cultivation. Methane has ample natural and human-caused sources and is a byproduct of wetlands, wildfires, permafrost, landfills, agricultural applications, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment and certain industrial processes.

"Unfortunately, almost half of the proven reserve of methane is 'stranded,'" Dube says. "Access to the natural gas is effectively blocked by terrain and the economies of converting to liquid for efficient transport. A compact, high-gain process is needed that would convert methane gas to a room temperature liquid, such as diesel, and be sufficiently portable to enable access to stranded gas."

Source: Rochester Institute of Technology (news : web)

Explore further: Demonstration turns methane gas to energy

Related Stories

Methane from microbes: a fuel for the future

December 10, 2007

Microbes could provide a clean, renewable energy source and use up carbon dioxide in the process, suggested Dr James Chong at a Science Media Centre press briefing today.

Explaining the methane mystery

September 27, 2006

Scientists have explained why atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas methane have stabilised in recent years, but warn that increases could resume in the near future.

Canada joins U.S. EPA program

July 14, 2005

Canada Thursday became the 16th nation to join the U.S. EPA's Methane to Markets Partnership to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas methane.

Toward tapping the potential of 'stranded' natural gas

February 28, 2007

Newly discovered chemical catalysts may be an answer to the century-long search for economical ways of using natural gas now burned or "flared" as waste in huge quantities, scientists in the United States and Germany report. ...

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Researchers engineer a tougher fiber

February 22, 2019

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a fiber that combines the elasticity of rubber with the strength of a metal, resulting in a tougher material that could be incorporated into soft robotics, packaging ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nik_2213
not rated yet Oct 24, 2009
Neat trick if they can manage it !

D'uh, like ultrasonics revolutionised grignard and other 'surface' reactions, then microwaves did for liquids...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.