Researchers have found and tested a catalyst that could convert methane gas into valuable compounds. A study in Nature Catalysis says the catalyst will be able not only to convert methane but also develop industrially vital compounds. These findings provide an option for combatting methane’s harmful greenhouse effects.
The U.S. recently announced new emission restrictions due to the warming effects of methane. To make the matter more complicated, methane gas doesn’t easily break down into its constituent compounds. As a result, it continues growing in the atmosphere.
According to Yue Wu, one of the study’s lead authors, and his colleagues at Iowa State University, the discovery provides a solution that could be explored further. “The results provided a potential solution to this long-time challenge and represented the best stability, conversion rate, and selectivity to convert methane to ethane or ethylene, two main precursors for the modern petrochemical industry,” researchers wrote in a project summary.
The catalyst in question is made up of two layers of platinum with each layer being as thin as an atom. The layers are deposited on two-dimensional metal carbide structures known as “MXenes” made out of carbon molybdenum and titanium. According to the researchers, the thin layers provide room for every platinum atom to be used as a catalyst to prevent the formation of residue that could cover and deactivate the platinum. As a result, only a small amount of platinum is required for the entire process.
Wu says that his team has been studying the combination of carbon and metals for over five years with support from the Office of Naval Research. The researchers discovered that MXene surfaces are highly active and can absorb many molecules. When exposed to methane, the catalyst can convert it into ethane or ethylene. Both of these products are primary ingredients for petrochemical industries.
“We had never seen carbide so active,” Wu said. “It’s usually very inert. It’s used, for example, for high-speed drill bits – the surface is hard and inert.”
Images via Li, Z., Xiao, Y., Chowdhury, P.R. et al.