One-step methane to liquid fuel breakthrough

This is the direct conversion of CO2 and CH4 into liquid fuels. Image courtesy of University of Liverpool
This is the direct conversion of CO2 and CH4 into liquid fuels. Image courtesy of University of Liverpool

A major breakthrough has been made in the direct conversion of methane and carbon dioxide into liquid fuels and chemicals. Researchers claim that the new process could help industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing vital chemical feedstocks.

The researchers from the University of Liverpool have developed a plasma synthesis process for a direct, one-step activation of carbon dioxide and methane into higher value liquid fuels and chemicals such as acetic acid, methanol, ethanol and formaldehyde. Their findings have been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Converting carbon dioxide and methane into liquid fuels and chemicals using single step processes such as catalysis has proven a significant challenge because they are both inert molecules. Typically, the conversion will require high temperature, energy intensive syngas production process and high pressure syngas processing for chemical synthesis.

The University of Liverpool scientists’ one-step room-temperature production of liquid fuels was achieved by using a unique atmospheric-pressure, non-thermal plasma reactor with a water electrode and a low energy input.

“These results clearly show that non-thermal plasmas offer a promising solution to overcome the thermodynamic barrier for the direct transformation of CH4 and CO2 into a range of strategically important platform chemicals and synthetic fuels at ambient conditions,” said Dr. Xin Tu, from the University of Liverpool’s department of electrical engineering. “Introducing a catalyst into the plasma chemical process, known as plasma-catalysis, could tune the selectivity of target chemicals. "

"This is a major breakthrough technology that has great potential to deliver a step-change in future methane activation, CO2 conversion and utilisation and chemical energy storage, which is also of huge relevance to the energy & chemical industry and could help to tackle the challenges of global warming and greenhouse gas effect."

According to a statement from the University, plasma systems have the flexibility to be scaled up and down. In addition, high reaction rate and fast attainment of steady state in a plasma process allows rapid start up and shut down compared to other thermal processes, significantly reducing the overall cost and offering a route for the plasma process powered by renewable energy to act as an efficient chemical energy storage localised or distributed system.

The process could also prove a solution to the problem of gas flaring from oil and gas wells by converting flared methane into valuable liquid fuels and chemicals which can be easily stored and transported. 

This is the direct conversion of CO2 and CH4 into liquid fuels. Image courtesy of University of Liverpool