BEIJING — Chinese researchers have developed a low-cost, high-efficiency method called ceriumphotocatalysis to convert methane into liquefied fuel, such as rocket propellant fuel, at room temperature.
A team at Shanghai Tech University found cerium can capture sunlight and cause a light-catalyzed reaction. After extensive experiments, they developed a catalyst combination of cerium and alcohol, which can convert methane into fuel at room temperature, with no need of heat or condensation.
Methane is often found as the main component of natural gas, one of the most important and valuable natural resources. However, methane conversion is currently difficult, requiring high temperatures and the use of rare, costly metals, such as platinum and palladium.
The researchers turned to rare earths, and eventually chose cerium, a soft, ductile and silvery-white metal which accounts for about 50 percent of rare earths.
China is the world’s largest rare earth producer and exporter. Cerium is abundant and inexpensive in China.
The new catalyst costs 18,000 yuan (about $2,650) per tonne, equivalent to one-10,000th of the price of traditional metal catalysts, said lead researcher Zuo Zhiwei.
It also has great potential application in the pharmaceutical and agricultural chemistry industries. Some Chinese companies have already flagged intentions to cooperate with the research team.
The research was published online in the journal Science last week.