Methanol – also known as wood alcohol – is widely used in the production of fuels, plastics, and medicines. But converting methane – a stable molecule – into higher-value chemicals such as methanol has long been regarded as the “Holy Grail” in the field of chemistry, according to a report on the academy’s website.
Led by Professor Deng Dehui and Yu Liang at the State Key Laboratory of Catalysis at the Dalian institute, the team set out to find catalytic reactions that convert methane, carbon monoxide, methanol and carbon dioxide into higher-value chemicals at relatively mild temperatures.
The researchers constructed active reaction sites on the surface of MoS2, a two-dimensional material.
The modified Mo atoms could then break down oxygen molecules at room temperature to form highly reactive molybdenum-oxygen clusters, which in turn react directly with methane.
“In contrast to previous multi-step reactions with conversion rates lower than 1 per cent, this innovative catalytic system achieves direct oxidation with a remarkable conversion rate of 4.2 per cent at room temperature. Furthermore, the reaction generates few by-products, and product selectivity exceeds 99 per cent,” the academy’s report said.
Product selectivity refers to the ratio of the amount of a desired product obtained and the amount of a key reactant converted.
The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Catalysis on September 21.
According to reports from the 2023 China Methanol Industry Conference, China’s total methanol production capacity has surpassed 100 million tonnes, with about 10 per cent of that produced from natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane. In Western and Middle Eastern countries, 95 per cent of methanol production comes from natural gas, according to a report from Great Wall Securities.