Selective functionalization of methane, ethane, and higher alkanes by cerium photocatalysis

Journal: Science

Published: 2018-08-17

DOI: 10.1126/science.aat9750

Affiliations: 1

Authors: 4

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Research Highlight

Methane manipulated with a light touch

© lvcandy /Getty

© lvcandy /Getty

An inexpensive catalyst powered by light can turn gaseous hydrocarbon molecules such as methane into valuable liquid organic molecules, Shanghai Tech University researchers have shown.

Photocatalysis is currently enjoying a resurgence of interest in synthetic organic chemistry, with visible-light-driven ‘photoredox’ catalysis in particular enjoying a moment in the sun. Once activated by light, photoredox catalysts can break otherwise unreactive bonds in organic molecules, as a step toward creating new molecules difficult to make by other means.

Methane, or natural gas, has great potential as an inexpensive chemical feedstock — but gaseous reactants can hard to handle in chemical reactions, and methane is an unreactive molecule.

The team has now shown that inexpensive cerium salts can act as visible-light photocatalysts in a reaction to turn methane and related gaseous hydrocarbons into various liquid products. The starting gas and a liquid mixture containing the catalyst could simply be pumped together through a network of transparent tubes bathed in light to produce the product.

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  1. Science 361, 668–672 (2018). doi: 10.1126/science.aat9750
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ShanghaiTech University, China 1