When burned, methane emits only half the carbon dioxide coal does, but when released freely into the atmosphere, methane is 20 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and its contribution to climate change has been estimated to 30%.
A team led by Berend Smit at Berkeley performed a computer-aided study that found several materials to capture methane and prevent it from entering the higher layers of the atmosphere.
Methane reacts poorly with most substances, and that’s the reason why it’s physically difficult to trap it. However, zeolites, porous minerals used as alkane-cracking catalysis in oil refinement, seemed to do the trick. In a collaboration with scientists from LLNL, they tested more than 87,000 zeolite structures and found a few candidates that have enought sorption capacity to be technologically viable.
The most promising of them was a zeolite called SBN, because it had a large number of binding sites formed in a manner that maximizes its interaction with the methane particles.
Smit also said they tested hundreds of thousands of zeolites in a matter os days, “thus enabling the discovery of novel structures that can serve as the building blocks of real, practical technology.”