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Micro-plasma reactor makes methanol from methane

By Tetsuo Satoh |

A plasma-based process has achieved a 30% yield of methanol from methane in a microreactor system developed by a research team led by Tomohiro Nozaki, associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology (TiTech; Tokyo, www.mech.titech.ac.jp). The yield is nearly the same as that obtained in conventional methanol-synthesis reactors (in single pass), which catalytically convert synthesis gas (from methane steam reformers) into methanol at temperatures of about 800°C. The direct, plasma-based route thus has the potential to slash energy consumption by one to two orders of magnitude, says Nozaki. The Nozaki group constructed a microreactor that incorporates nano-pulsed plasma technology used in air-purification systems. A mixture of air and methane passes through a 1.5-mm dia., 5-cm long water-cooled quartz tube. When the nano-pulsed plasma is applied, methanol (as well as formaldehyde and formic acid) are produced with reaction times of 100–500 ms. The products are condensed on the walls of the tube and removed by a pulsed injection of water, which minimizes decomposition and further reactions. Selectivities of 40–50% for methanol formaldehyde and formic acid are achieved at 10°C operation. The researchers believe…
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