A National Science Foundation grant is supporting a novel approach using laser light to convert methane into methanol. Roger Dube, research professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, won the $79,000 exploratory research award to apply optical catalytic conversion to the problem.
Dube will use finely tuned laser light, not heat, to reduce the barrier to reaction in methane and to create longer chain molecules or fuels. The process works without the need for heat or a catalytic surface. This is important because heat consumes some of the fuel stock and decreases overall conversion efficiency. Catalysts get dirty and have to be replaced or cleaned, both expensive and time-consuming propositions.
“Successful photo-catalysis of methane would theoretically produce clean fuels and remove methane gas that otherwise would simply be released into the atmosphere,” Dube says. “If successful, the technology could have broad impact in other fields of chemistry.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane—the odorless component of natural gas—remains in the atmosphere for approximately nine to 15 years.