In a major breakthrough, researchers at Cardiff University have found an efficient and secure method of making Methanol from Methane using oxygen from the air.

Liquid methanol has huge potential for use as an alternative fuel. This compound is also widely used as a raw material in a variety of industrial processes. However, the process currently used to produce methanol from natural gas (a rich source of methane) is energy-intensive and expensive. It requires high pressure as well as heat to break down natural gas into molecules of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas (CO + H2).

These molecules are then assembled again (using steam reforming and methanol synthesis) to produce methanol. In this complete process, the hydrogen bond in a methane molecule is broken, and an extra oxygen atom is introduced to produce a molecule of methanol. The efficiency of this process is low, and it also requires complex, aggressive reaction environment to complete.

Researchers used colloidal gold-palladium nanoparticles and molecular oxygen

In the current study, a joint team of researchers from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute and Lehigh University found a new approach for directly converting methane into methanol using colloidal gold-palladium nanoparticles and molecular oxygen under milder reaction conditions (temperature of 50°C).

The team used gold-palladium nanoparticles as catalysts to oxidize methane to methanol at low temperatures. In this catalytic process, researchers also used a little amount of hydrogen peroxide to ensure a constant supply of methyl radicals. The result was selective oxidation of methane to methanol.

According to Professor Graham Hutchings, Director of Cardiff Catalysis Institute, they had earlier demonstrated that Au-Pd nanoparticles and titanium oxide could be used to produce methanol from methane, but they have now made the process simpler by taking away titanium oxide.

Professor Hutchings and Professor Christopher J. Kiely from Lehigh University have been jointly studying the use of gold-palladium nanoparticles as efficient catalysts in different reactions.

Commercial production of methanol using the new technique will take time

Professor Hutchings says it will take some time to produce methanol using the new technique commercially, but it is going to help preserve natural gas resources and make the world a cleaner, greener place to live in the long run. This technique is also expected to stop wastage of millions of tons of natural gas each year.

The detailed findings of the study titled have been published in the journal Science.