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SUMMARY

The process could potentially unlock greater potential for methane to replace other, higher-carbon liquid fuels.

By Joseph Murphy

Scientists at the Federal University of Sao Carlos in Brazil have succeeded in what they say is the best reaction yet for converting methane into methanol using light and dispersed transition metals such as copper in a process known as photo-oxidation, according to a study published in Chemical Communications.

The process could potentially unlock greater potential for methane to replace other, higher-carbon liquid fuels. The reaction was achieved under ambient temperature and pressure settings of 25oC and 1 bar respectively. The photocatalyst utilised in the study was a significant invention, the scientists said, and the findings open the door for future investigation of how solar energy can be used for the conversion process, potentially reducing emissions further.

"Our group innovated significantly by oxidising methane in a single stage," Ivo Freitas Teixeira, a professor at the university, said in a statement. "In the chemical industry, this conversion occurs via the production of hydrogen and CO2 in at least two stages and under very high temperature and pressure conditions. Our success in obtaining methanol under mild conditions, while also expending less energy, is a major step forward."

There’s a great debate in the scientific community about the size of the planet’s methane reserves," Marcos da Silva, the study's first author and a PhD candidate at the university's department of physics, added. "According to some estimates, they may have double the energy potential of all other fossil fuels combined. In the transition to renewables, we’ll have to tap into all this methane at some point."