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Halting methane squanderlust
Date:5/21/2008

RICHLAND, Wash. -- The pipes that rise from oil fields, topped with burning flames of natural gas, waste fossil fuels and dump carbon dioxide into the air. In new work, researchers have identified the structure of a catalytic material that can turn methane into a safe and easy-to-transport liquid. The insight lays the foundation for converting excess methane into a variety of useful fuels and chemicals.

"There's a big interest in doing something with this 'stranded' methane other than flaring it off," said chemist Chuck Peden of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "An important thing researchers have struggled with is determining the structure of the active catalyst."

That catalyst -- molybdenum oxide sitting on a zeolite mineral -- converts methane gas into the more tractable liquid benzene. But the process is not yet commercially viable. Scientists don't understand enough about the molecular details to improve the catalyst. Now, researchers at PNNL and the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in Dalian have worked out some of the details that will help researchers zoom in on an efficient catalyst.

They reported their results March 26 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. This work is the first publication to come out of the International Consortium for Clean Energy, a collaboration between PNNL, the DICP and China's Institute of Coal Chemistry.

To get these results, the chemists -- led by Peden at PNNL and Xinhe Bao at DICP -- used the world's largest instrument of its kind -- a 900-megahertz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer. The NMR is armed with one of the strongest magnets constructed and can be outfitted to investigate solid samples, a step above its smaller cousins.

The combination of molybdenum oxide and a zeolite mineral had been shown in 1993 to convert methane, but the catalyst has been difficult to analyse. Researchers k
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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