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Catalytic advances enable methane conversion without coking

By Scott Jenkins |

The large supply of unconventional natural gas from shale deposits in the U.S. has increased attention on utilizing small alkanes to synthesize higher-value chemicals and fuels, while avoiding thermal steam-cracking, which is energy-intensive. Attempts to catalytically convert methane, ethane and propane to industrially relevant chemicals, such as methanol, ethylene, propylene and others, require activation of the relatively inert carbon-hydrogen bond in alkanes. A team of researchers from Tufts University (Medford, Mass.; www.tufts.edu) has advanced the effort toward catalyst-aided reaction of small alkanes in a series of recent papers. In one study, published in Nature Chemistry, the team investigated a methane conversion catalyst system designed to avoid the problem of deactivation by coke buildup, which has plagued many platinum- and nickel-based catalyst systems in this area. Both can activate C–H bonds, but tend to dehydrogenate alkanes completely, leading to coking. The Tufts researchers investigated a single-atom alloy (SAA) composed of 1% individual, isolated platinum atoms in a copper surface. Copper is resistant to coking, but does not have the ability to activate C–H bond breakage. So the introduction of dispersed,…
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