University of Liverpool researchers have found a way to convert carbon dioxide and methane into liquid fuels and chemicals.
The direct conversion breakthrough could help the industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions whilst producing valuable chemical feedstocks.
The researchers made use of a unique plasma synthesis process for the direct, one-step activation of carbon dioxide and methane into higher value liquid fuels and chemicals (acetic acid, methanol, ethanol and formaldehyde) with high selectivity at ambient room temperature and atmospheric pressure.
This is the first time this process has been shown, as it is a significant challenge to directly convert these two stable and inert molecules into liquid fuels or chemicals using any single-step conventional processes.
The one-step room-temperature synthesis was achieved by using a novel atmospheric-pressure non-thermal plasma reactor with a water electrode and a low energy input.
Dr. Xin Tu, from the University’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Electronics, said: “These results clearly show that non-thermal plasmas offer a promising solution to overcome the thermodynamic barrier for the direct transformation of CH4 and CO2 into a range of strategically important platform chemicals and synthetic fuels at ambient conditions. Introducing a catalyst into the plasma chemical process, known as plasma-catalysis, could tune the selectivity of target chemicals. ”
“This is a major breakthrough technology that has great potential to deliver a step-change in future methane activation, CO2 conversion and utilisation and chemical energy storage, which is also of huge relevance to the energy & chemical industry and could help to tackle the challenges of global warming and greenhouse gas effect.”
The highly attractive process could also provide a promising solution to end gas flaring from oil and gas wells through the conversion of flared methane into valuable liquid fuels and chemicals which can be easily stored and transported.
According to the researchers, around 3.5% (~150 billion cubic meter gas) of the world’s natural-gas supply is wastefully burned, or ‘flared’, at oil and gas fields, emitting more than 350 million tonnes of CO2.
Image and content: University of Liverpool