Scientists have discovered a new way to produce methanol from methane using oxygen from the air. Methanol got its name 'wood alcohol' because it is produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood. It has become an important chemical often used as fuel in vehicles. Using Methanol as fuel has major implications for cleaner, greener industrial processes worldwide, using the freely available air, inexpensive chemicals and an energy efficient methanol production process.
Currently, methanol is made with the help of an inexpensive and energy-intensive processes known as steam reforming and methanol syntheses. Natural gas is broken down at high temperatures into hydrogen gas (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO) before reassembling them to procure methanol.
The new method will help scientists produce methanol from methane through simple catalysis. Catalysis is simply an addition of substance called catalyst which speeds up a chemical reaction. It enables methanol production at low temperatures using oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. The relative abundance of methane on Earth makes it an attractive fuel. The new process can help to reduce dependence on fossil fuels but the commercialisation of methane may take longer. It seeks to use waste gas flared into the atmosphere during natural gas production, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions and helping out nature.
At present global natural gas production is about 2.4 billion tonnes per annum and 4% of this is flared into the atmosphere - roughly 100 million tonnes. The new approach of using natural gas could use this waste gas saving, cutting on carbon dioxide emissions.