Low temperature oxidation of alkanes to alcohols
Natural gas is a vital domestic natural resource whose recoverable reserves have been growing rapidly in recent years. As a result, natural gas costs have diverged from oil, making American chemical manufactures using natural gas as feedstock highly competitive. However, the uses for methane, the main component of natural gas, are still limited. This SBIR project addresses the long-standing need for catalytic methods to selectively oxidize methane to methanol using air. The goal is to create a scalable, efficient, and low-cost technology that converts abundant, low-quality natural gas into methanol for deployment to the nations smaller gas fields. This transformational technology represents a fundamental shift in the process chemistry and overall approach to synthesis of methanol. It combines fast reaction rates with a modest operating temperature that is many hundreds of degrees less than conventional syngas-based routes. This project applies novel concepts in oxidation and heterogeneous catalysis to create a highly engineered, multifunctional catalyst that promotes the selective oxidation of methane to methanol using air as the oxidant. No expensive co-reactants are required. Phase I research was directed towards proving out the concept on a bench scale system. The novel catalyst concept was demonstrated to work with exceptional selectivity, and the necessary reaction conditions were identified. The technology was estimated to exceed the performance necessary to compete with fossil-derived methanol. Phase II will extend this work to improve the catalyst performance in two key areas. Several elements of reactor and process design will be conducted to make the technology ready for commercialization. By the end of this project, the process will be ready for piloting, followed by full commercial deployment. If successful, this technology would allow the utilization of the many small and low quality gas fields scattered around the US and the world for methanol production. By drastically lowering the capital cost of a methanol plant, this technology will greatly increase the availability of methanol and open doors to converting this versatile material into a wide range of products including transportation fuels and commodity chemicals.
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