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New catalyst approach for methane-to-ethylene conversion

By Scott Jenkins |

A nanotechnology-based, bottom-up approach to synthesizing catalysts for converting natural gas to ethylene could enable an alternative to the steam-cracking of crude oil, an energy-intensive process conventionally used to produce ethylene, the world’s most valuable commodity chemical. Scientists at the startup Siluria Technologies Inc. (San Francisco, Calif.; www.siluria.com) have developed a synthetic method that allows them to manipulate catalyst surface morphology such that the oxidative coupling of methane (OCM) reaction proceeds with high performance at low temperatures. An industrially viable OCM method has been sought for decades, but past efforts have been unsuccessful because the high temperatures needed for activating methane reduce the reaction’s selectivity. With many previously studied catalysts, methyl free radicals leave the catalyst surface before conversion to the desired ethylene product. Non-selective oxidation to CO2 is common. A methane-based route to ethylene could introduce feedstock flexibility and uncouple the price of crude oil from that of commodity chemicals. Marrying molecular biology with industrial chemistry, Siluria’s catalyst synthesis process uses proteins on the surface of a genetically…
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