Methane is currently the cleanest burning fuel after hydrogen, but estimates are that the resources will exhaust in about 130 years, so we’ll eventually have to find something else to replace it. Anyway, until then, it’s a matter of cost and efficiency of the methods that we use to transport CNG. If the extraction and transport methods will be more cost-effective, CNG will only last for only another 60 years.
It’s inefficient to transport the natural gas in remote rural areas by pipes, because this kind of transport consumes a lot of energy and money, plus the pollution greenhouse gas emitted in the building process. Max Planck Institute for Coal Research and at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have invented a material in the form of a powder than can transform methane into methanol, which is easier to transport and handle.
There already are methods to transform methane into methanol, but they are expensive and rely on steam reforming and methanol synthesis (Fischer-Tropsch). The catalyst the scientists invented consists of a nitrogenous material, a covalent, triazine-based network (CTF) synthesized by the chemists in Potsdam. “This solid is so porous that the surface of a gram is approximately equivalent in size to a fifth of a football field,” says Markus Antonietti.
The researchers in Mi¼lheim insert platinum atoms into the voluminous lattice of the CTF. Thanks to the large surface area, the catalyst oxidizes the methane efficiently to methanol, as it offers the methane a large area in which to react when the chemists immerse it in oxidizing sulphuric acid, force methane into the acid and heat the mixture to 215° Celsius under pressure. Methanol is created from more than three-quarters of the converted gas.
Natural gas is surely not the best method to change our habits of using fossil fuels, but if today’s cars would have run on methane, we would surely not have had that much pollution in the air. In addition to that, remote rural areas need cheap fuel, so this powder catalyst will be a blessing for some of them, at least.