The capture and conversion of greenhouse gases are important in the existential fight against climate change.
USC scientists have unlocked a new, more efficient pathway for converting methane — a potent gas contributing to climate change — directly into basic chemicals for manufacturing plastics, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.
In research published on Dec. 4 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, chemists at USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute say they have found a way to help to utilize this abundant and dangerous greenhouse gas, which is generally burnt or flared to produce energy.
Among common greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is often cited as the largest culprit for trapping heat on earth, contributing to climate change. However, it is not the most potent.
That distinction belongs to methane. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane traps heat and warms the planet 86 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon.
Global methane emissions have surged since 2007 and output is particularly bad in the United States. According to a recent Harvard University study, the United States could be solely responsible for as much as 60 percent of the global growth in human-caused atmospheric methane emissions during this century.
Contributing to the global surge is the increased supply of livestock and rice fields in countries like India and China, the two leaders in total methane output, according to the World Bank.
While being the most potent of our popular greenhouse gases, and even after the largest methane leak in U.S. history at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility a few years ago, there are no signs that methane’s abundant production will slow down anytime soon.
Shale fracking and other resource extraction techniques are increasing natural gas reserves, and the Loker scientists believe methane may soon become the most popular of all raw materials for producing petrochemical products.