More Efficient Means to Produce Liquid Fuels
Natural gas and its components are valuable resources, but are tricky to work with because they are gases. Refining and converting the hydrocarbons into liquid fuels can be done, making storage and transport easier, but the processes involved require high pressures and temperatures. Researchers at Berkeley Lab and many other institutions have recently developed a proof-of-principle catalyst that drops the requirements, and could improve access to these liquid fuels.
Natural gas is comprised of many hydrocarbons, including methane and ethane, the latter of which can be converted into ethanol. That conversion process is expensive due to the 200-300 ºC temperature requirement, so the researchers have been working on a catalyst to ease the process. What they have developed is a metal-organic-framework (MOF) with iron attached, forming Fe-MOF-74. The structure of MOFs is like a cage, which enables them to act as a filter for other molecules, and have a large amount of surface area to absorb gases and liquids. The iron atoms inside the cages act as a catalyst for producing ethanol from ethane, reducing the temperature requirement to just 75 ºC.
With such a reduction in temperature, this discovery could drastically reduce the cost of converting natural gas into liquid fuels. Those fuels, which are generally clean burning, can then be stored and distributed more easily.
Source: Berkeley Lab