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Scientists use gold to convert natural gas

catalysis using gold

Researchers at Cardiff University are investigating a method for converting natural gas into useful chemicals and fuels using gold. 

In collaboration with researchers at Lehigh University, USA and the National Centre for Magnetic Resonance in Wuhan, China, this proposed “simple, low-cost method” uses the precious metal gold as a key ingredient to turn methane into usable products. 

While natural gas is one of the cleanest of the fossil fuels, it still emits dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when burned. 

Researchers have investigated a way of converting methane (which account for 70-90 per cent of natural gas) into chemicals and fuels in a simple and cost-effective manner. 

In a study published in Nature Catalysis, the team of researchers from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute demonstrated the direct conversion of methane into methanol and acetic acid using a gold catalyst.

Regius Professor of Chemistry from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute Graham Hutchings said that the oxidation of methane to form oxygenated chemical intermediates has long been a challenge in catalysis. 

“We have successfully demonstrated this for the very first time in this study, providing an important first step towards the creation of important fuels and chemicals in a simple and cost-effective way,” Professor Hutchings said. 

The team reacted methane (the main component of natural gas) with oxygen in the presence of a catalyst made from gold to achieve the creation of methanol and acetic acid. 

The production of methanol using this catalyst was expected; however, the production of acetic acid was the novel discovery. 

Acetic acid is a common industrial chemical with large quantities used to make products such as ink for textile printing, dyes, photographic chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastics.

Methanol, meanwhile, is commonly used as a precursor to many other commodity chemicals, as well as a biofuel.

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