New De­vel­op­ments

Chemical Industry Digest - - What’s In? -

Func­tion­al­is­ing car­bon-hy­dro­gen bonds in meth­ane is a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing process that most known cat­a­lysts can achieve only un­der ex­tremely acidic and/or ox­i­dis­ing con­di­tions. How­ever, mi­cro­scopic crys­talline struc­tures called metal-or­ganic frame­works (MOFs) may pro­vide a way to solve one of the big­gest prob­lems in meth­ane func­tion­al­i­sa­tion catal­y­sis, an eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant chem­i­cal process.

Re­searchers have been con­stantly look­ing to trans­form meth­ane into some­thing more valu­able. One such prod­uct could be methanol.

A team led by Del­ferro and Omar Farha, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sors of chem­istry at North­west­ern Univer­sity, has demon­strated a new way to ac­ti­vate meth­ane with MOFs, as a re­sult of their joint ef­forts in the Inorganometal­lic Cat­a­lyst De­sign Cen­ter. They and seven co-au­thors re­cently pub­lished their method in Na­ture Catal­y­sis.

Ac­cord­ing to the team, MOFs can se­lec­tively pro- duce a spe­cific boron-in­fused meth­ane prod­uct by shape-se­lec­tive catal­y­sis, a widely used in­dus­trial tech­nique for chem­i­cal syn­the­sis and hy­dro­car­bon pro­cess­ing. Shape-se­lec­tive catal­y­sis can dis­tin­guish be­tween mol­e­cules that are slightly dif­fer­ent in size and may se­lec­tively form only one de­sired chem­i­cal prod­uct. But, for the tech­nique to work, the pore space of the cat­a­lyst must be com­pa­ra­ble to the size of the mol­e­cules in­volved in the re­ac­tion.

In MOFs, or­ganic mol­e­cules and metal ox­ide clus­ters serve as the links and nodes, re­spec­tively. MOFs are at­trac­tive can­di­dates for per­form­ing shape-se­lec­tive catal­y­sis be­cause they are struc­turally tun­able, ac­cord­ing to lead au­thor Xuan Zhang of North­west­ern and his col­leagues.

In the next phase of their re­search, Del­ferro and Farha will at­tempt to ac­ti­vate meth­ane with the same chem­istry, but they will sub­sti­tute earth-abun­dant met­als such as iron, cobalt, nickel and cop­per for irid­ium, which is rare and ex­pen­sive.

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