Two researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) have developed new technology to produce energy and materials from methane, a major greenhouse gas (GHG), which is considered even more harmful than carbon dioxide (CO2), the institution announced on its website.
Thanks to their two innovations, methane can be used to generate green energy and high-performance materials for smart devices, biotechnology, and solar cells, among other applications.
The scientists behind the inventions are nanotechnologist Laurene Tetard and catalysis expert Richard Blair, who have been collaborating at UCF for the past 10 years.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the impact of methane on the Earth’s atmosphere is 28 times greater than that of CO2 over a 100-year period in comparative, “pound-for-pound” terms.
The reason for this is that methane, although it has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere as compared to CO2, is more efficient at trapping radiations. Methane emissions are mainly attributed to agriculture, landfills, and energy and industry.
The research collaborators have come up with “a better, cleaner method for producing hydrogen” from hydrocarbons, such as methane, using visible light — for example a laser, lamp or solar source — and defect-engineered boron-rich photocatalysts, without releasing carbon gas, UCF said.
Thus, the hydrogen produced is free from contaminants, such as carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, that are common in traditional methods for generating hydrogen, which use higher temperatures and conventional catalysts.
At UCF’s Exolith Lab the scientists were able to generate hydrogen from methane using sunlight by putting the system on a large solar concentrator.
One of the inventors, Blair, highlighted the double benefit of the new method. “You get green hydrogen, and you remove — not really sequester — methane. You’re processing methane into just hydrogen and pure carbon that can be used for things like batteries,” he said.
According to UCF, the potential market applications for this innovation include possible large-scale production of hydrogen in solar farms and the capture and conversion of methane.
In addition, Tetard and Blair have developed a method for producing carbon nanoscale and microscale structures with controlled dimensions, also using light and a defect-engineered photocatalyst, from numerous carbon sources, including methane, ethane, propane, propene, and carbon monoxide.
Regarding the second innovation, Blair said that it could be used for “high-dollar applications, perhaps for medical devices or new chemical sensors”.