Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Engineers seek ways to convert methane into useful chemicals

Date:
December 20, 2012
Source:
University of Virginia
Summary:
With natural gas production rising, engineers and scientists are seeking ways to convert methane into useful chemicals. A new study suggests a pathway.

Matthew Neurock, a chemical engineering professor in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Credit: Cole Geddy

Little more than a decade ago, the United States imported much of its natural gas. Today, the nation is tapping into its own natural gas reserves and producing enough to support most of its current needs for heating and power generation, and is beginning to export natural gas to other countries.

Related Articles


The trend is expected to continue, as new methods are developed to extract natural gas from vast unrecovered reserves embedded in shale. Natural gas can be used to generate electricity, and it burns cleaner than coal.

"With petroleum reserves in decline, natural gas production is destined to increase to help meet worldwide energy demands," said Matthew Neurock, a chemical engineering professor in the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science. "But petroleum -- in addition to being used to make fuels -- is also used to make ethylene, propylene and other building blocks used in the production of a wide range of other chemicals. We need to develop innovative processes that can readily make these chemical intermediates from natural gas." The problem is, there currently are no cost-effective ways to do this. Methane, the principal component of natural gas, is rather inert and requires high temperatures to activate its strong chemical bonds; therefore the practical and successful conversion of methane to useful chemical intermediates has thus far eluded chemists and engineers.

Neurock is working with colleagues at Northwestern University to invent novel ways and catalytic materials to activate methane to produce ethylene. This week the collaborators published a paper in the online edition of the journal Nature Chemistry detailing the use of sulfur as a possible "soft" oxidant for catalytically converting methane into ethylene, a key "intermediate" for making chemicals, polymers, fuels and, ultimately, products such as films, surfactants, detergents, antifreeze, textiles and others.

"We show, through both theory -- using quantum mechanical calculations -- and laboratory experiments, that sulfur can be used together with novel sulfide catalysts to convert methane to ethylene, an important intermediate in the production of a wide range of materials," Neurock said.

Chemists and engineers have attempted to develop catalysts and catalytic processes that use oxygen to make ethylene, methanol and other intermediates, but have had little success as oxygen is too reactive and tends to over-oxidize methane to common carbon dioxide.

Neurock said that sulfur or other "softer" oxidants that have weaker affinities for hydrogen may be the answer, in that they can help to limit the over-reaction of methane to carbon disulfide. In the team's process, methane is reacted with sulfur over sulfide catalysts used in petroleum processes. Sulfur is used to remove hydrogen from the methane to form hydrocarbon fragments, which subsequently react together on the catalyst to form ethylene.

Theoretical and experimental results indicate that the conversion of methane and the selectivity to produce ethylene are controlled by how strong the sulfur bonds to the catalyst. Using these concepts, the team explored different metal sulfide catalysts to ultimately tune the metal-sulfur bond strength in order to control the conversion of methane to ethylene. Chemical companies consider methane a particularly attractive raw material because of the large reserves of natural gas in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

In 2007, Dow issued a "Methane Challenge," seeking revolutionary chemical processes to facilitate the conversion of methane to ethylene and other useful chemicals. The company received about 100 proposals from universities, institutes and companies around the world. In 2008, the company awarded major research grants to Cardiff University and Northwestern University to advance the quest. Neurock is a member of the Northwestern University team. He is using theoretical methods and high-performance computing to understand the processes that control catalysis and to guide the experimental research at Northwestern.

"The abundance of natural gas, along with the development of new methods to extract it from hidden reserves, offers unique opportunities for the development of catalytic processes that can convert methane to chemicals," Neurock said. "Our finding -- of using sulfur to catalyze the conversion of methane to ethylene -- shows initial promise for the development of new catalytic processes that can potentially take full advantage of these reserves. The research, however, is really just in its infancy."

Neurock's co-investigators on the Nature Chemistry paper are Qingjun Zhu, Staci Wegener, Chao Xie and Tobin Marks of Northwestern University, and U.Va. colleague Obioma Uche.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Virginia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Qingjun Zhu, Staci L. Wegener, Chao Xie, Obioma Uche, Matthew Neurock, Tobin J. Marks. Sulfur as a selective ‘soft’ oxidant for catalytic methane conversion probed by experiment and theory. Nature Chemistry, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1527

Cite This Page:

University of Virginia. "Engineers seek ways to convert methane into useful chemicals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121220153505.htm>.
University of Virginia. (2012, December 20). Engineers seek ways to convert methane into useful chemicals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121220153505.htm
University of Virginia. "Engineers seek ways to convert methane into useful chemicals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121220153505.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Who Will Failed Nuclear Talks Hurt Most?

Who Will Failed Nuclear Talks Hurt Most?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) With no immediate prospect of sanctions relief for Iran, and no solid progress in negotiations with the West over the country's nuclear programme, Ciara Lee asks why talks have still not produced results and what a resolution would mean for both parties. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flying Enthusiast Converts Real-Life Aircraft Cockpit Into Simulator

Flying Enthusiast Converts Real-Life Aircraft Cockpit Into Simulator

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) A virtual flying enthusiast converts parts of a written-off Airbus aircraft into a working flight simulator in his northern Slovenian home. Jim Drury reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A British solar power start-up says that by covering millions of existing car park spaces around the UK with flexible solar panels, the country's power problems could be solved. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Microsoft Adds Robot Guards, Ushers In Sci-Fi Apocalypse

Microsoft Adds Robot Guards, Ushers In Sci-Fi Apocalypse

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Microsoft has robotic security guards working at its Silicon Valley Campus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins