Navigation Links
Research targets 'holy grail' of catalysis
Date:1/14/2014

Lars Grabow has been given a $750,000 grant to solve a multi-billion dollar problem.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is cheap and plentiful, thanks in large part to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Ideally, it could be converted into rarer and far more valuable chemicals like methanol, ethane or ethylene, all of which have dozens of uses, many involving the creation of plastics and polymers.

Easier said than done.

This research falls under the umbrella of catalysis, which uses one material to initiate or speed up a chemical reaction that changes other substances.

"For more than 30 years, people have tried to do this chemistry," said Grabow, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering. "It's the Holy Grail of catalysisIf you could invent a catalyst that selectively converts methane into ethylene, you'd be a billionaire right there."

In addition to the economic value of such a discovery, Grabow said, Holy Grail status is conferred by the methane molecule's strong carbon-hydrogen bonds and its unique shape. It is perfectly symmetrical, consisting of one carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms.

This symmetry means there's no obvious way to split a single hydrogen atom from methane, the first step in converting the gas into a new chemical. In fact, this split can only be carried out at very high temperatures. At these temperatures, the remaining methyl radical (one carbon with three hydrogens) detaches from the surface of the catalyst and simply burns off. As a result the methane is entirely wasted.

The key to solving this problem, Grabow believes, is finding the oxidizing agent essentially a molecule that can accept electrons from another molecule that is the most effective at reacting with and separating hydrogen atoms from methane molecules.

"We want to understand what role the oxidizing agent plays in this process and if we do that then we want to use that knowledge to design a catalyst that can break the carbon-hydrogen bond at lower temperatures," he said.

Grabow then will run simulations exploring the ability of different combinations of catalysts (including various metal alloys, metal-oxides and zeolite crystals) and oxidizing agents (such as oxygen, hydrogen peroxide and carbon dioxide) to detach a hydrogen atom from methane molecules at low temperatures. This should keep the methyl on the surface of the catalyst, allowing researchers to then convert it to more valuable chemicals.

Promising combinations identified by Grabow's simulations will then be explored through experiments conducted by Bill Epling, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Cullen College and Grabow's collaborator on the project.

If they're successful, Grabow said, their findings will only cover the first half of converting methane into other chemicals. Additional research will be needed to find ways to best transform the remaining and stable methyl fragment into the materials like methanol, ethane and ethylene.

Success in just the first part of the reaction, though, would be a major breakthrough, said Grabow.

"If we can find a way to separate one hydrogen atom from a methane molecule, our hope is that processes that aim to upgrade methane to a higher value product can be carried out more selectively. No one has understood this process. It's a very fundamental question we're trying to answer with a very big potential impact."


'/>"/>

Contact: Jeannie Kever
jekever@uh.edu
713-743-0778
University of Houston
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Study by UC Santa Barbara researchers suggests that bacteria communicate by touch
2. Research reveals first evidence of hunting by prehistoric Ohioans
3. Diabetes Research Institute develops oxygen-generating biomaterial
4. APS issues new policy requiring identification of sex or gender in reporting scientific research
5. UC Santa Barbara researchers discover genetic link between visual pathways of hydras and humans
6. Study jointly led by UCSB researcher supports theory of extraterrestrial impact
7. U of Alberta researcher steps closer to understand autoimmune diseases
8. Research on flavanols and procyanidins provides new insights into how these phytonutrients may positively impact human health
9. A project to research biological and chemical aspects of microalgae to fuel approach
10. Scripps Research discoveries lead to newly approved drug for infant respiratory distress syndrome
11. Researchers attempt to solve problems of antibiotic resistance and bee deaths in one
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:2/1/2016)... , February 1, 2016 ... advancements to drive global touchfree intuitive gesture control market ... --> Rising sales of consumer electronics coupled with ... control market size through 2020 ... electronics coupled with new technological advancements to drive global ...
(Date:1/28/2016)... SAN JOSE, Calif., Jan. 28, 2016 Synaptics (NASDAQ: ... financial results for its second quarter ended December 31, 2015. ... the second quarter of fiscal 2016 increased 2 percent compared to ... the second quarter of fiscal 2016 was $35.0 million, or $0.93 ... Non-GAAP net income for the first quarter of fiscal 2016 ...
(Date:1/25/2016)... -- Glencoe Software, the world-leading supplier of image data management ... the data management solution OMERO Plus for the newly ... Photo - http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20160125/325328LOGO ... Phenotypic analysis measures the characteristics and behavior of cells, ... such as health and disease, the presence or absence ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/11/2016)... , February 11, 2016 ... ("PositiveID" or "Company") (OTCQB: PSID), a life sciences ... that its Thermomedics subsidiary, which markets the Caregiver® ... growth plan in January 2016, including entering into ... sequential monthly sales growth, and establishing several near-term ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... Febr. 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - BioAmber Inc. (NYSE: BIOA ... announce that Mitsui & Co. Ltd., its partner in ... plant, is investing an additional CDN$25 million in the ... stake from 30% to 40%.  Mitsui will also play ... produced in Sarnia , providing dedicated ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... February 10, ... ... REGN) today announced that it has joined the Human Vaccines Project, a ... infectious diseases and cancer. , The Human Vaccines Project brings together ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... ... February 10, 2016 , ... HOLLOWAY AMERICA, a leading custom ... Rocky Mountain Chapter 21st Annual Vendor Exhibition on Thursday, February 18, 2016. The ... for its annual event, which will run from 3:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. ...
Breaking Biology Technology: