Natural gas has been widely used in homes, power plants, factories, and transportation due to its low cost and large domestic reserves. A 50% rise in global natural gas consumption is expected between 2010 and 2035 according to the U. S. Energy Information Administration.
Innovative catalysts are needed for enhancing the transformation of methane, the dominant component of natural gas as well as a greenhouse gas (see figure) directly into more useful chemicals. The Eleni Kyriakidou research group investigates the synthesis of novel catalysts with controlled shapes that actively convert methane. They seek to establish the catalyst’s structure/activity relationship.For that purpose, nanofiber structured strontium (Sr)—lanthanum oxide (La2O3) catalysts, are precisely synthesized by Yuhan Mei, a MSc student in the group, by varying the temperature and acidity during the synthesis. These catalysts are capable of transforming methane to useful products such as ethylene and ethane that can be further utilized as intermediates for industrial products formation (e.g., plastics, surfactants, and pharmaceuticals).
Making useful chemicals directly from methane in an energy efficient manner will present a distinct economic advantage with long-term potential impact. The project has been successfully funded through a sub-award from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Yuhan Mei has been recently awarded with the Mark Diamond Research Fund (MDRF) grant for research expenses related to her thesis.