Wasteful methane burn-offs might be converted into liquid fuel via a molecular'vice

Wasteful methane burn-offs might be converted into liquid fuel via a molecular'vice ...

A new methane binding agent might reduce the amount of natural gas that is wasted every year.

The global oil industry produces roughly the same quantity of natural gas as is used by Central and South America each year.

A New Atlas report claims that the new binding agent would help to make a lot of the gas more economically viable.

The issue with methane in the oil industry

Oil production is currently responsible for roughly 40 percent of methane emissions for oil and gas industries. Oil companies have not had an economically viable method of capturing methane that escapes during oil drilling. Instead, they burn it, releasing it into the atmosphere, which has a global warming potential of about 265 million tons.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales believe they achieved an important breakthrough in the form of a more efficient and inexpensive catalytic transformation technique.

The UNSW researchers used computer modeling to identify the highest-density element found in nature as an ideal binding agent. "We have discovered that methane, which is generally inert, will interact with an osmium-metal-centered species to form a relatively stable osmium-methane complex," according to James Watson, the lead author of a new study.

"This means that half the complex must decompose in 13 hours," said the researcher. "This stability, in combination with the relatively long lifespan of this complex, allows for thorough analysis of the structure, formation, and reaction of this class of [osmium] complexes, and helps to inform the design of catalysts that can transform methane into more synthetically useful compounds."

Providing assistance in the transition away from fossil fuels

The osmium complexes enable scientists to perform in-depth molecular investigations that would lead to novel catalytic approaches that leverage more available elements since osmium is one of Earth's rarest elements.

Associate Professor Graham Ball, a study co-author, believes that the use of transition metal elements as a catalyst is much more efficient and safer than storage of gases. "Not only do liquid fuels [come in] at a significantly lower energy cost.

Liquid fuels are much easier to transport, according to the researchers, and would be easily integrated into our existing fuel infrastructure. E10 petrol already contains ten percent ethanol. This would also provide an incentive to retain methane for conversion and to avoid burning it without purpose, reducing overall fossil fuel consumption and damaging emissions.

Hydrocarbon fuels do, of course, emit carbon dioxide, implying that this technique would not be environmentally friendly. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently declared that the global energy system is "broken" and that much more urgent action is required. In that context, this may not be sufficient.

Denied, the new approach may save some money by eliminating other fuels, although it might also help to reduce large amounts of natural gas from going to waste. Then, there is the possibility that the methane-derived liquid fuel may also be mixed with biofuel. Together, they make up a significant step toward removing fossil fuel use.

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