Methane emissions caused by human activity represent, however, a daunting societal challenge that contributes massively to climate change, second only to CO2. Curbing methane emissions is critical because of their outsized impact on the climate. While methane levels in the atmosphere are 200 times lower than that of CO2, methane is approximately 80 times more potent at trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere during the first 20 years after its release. Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 to 15 years, unlike CO2, which will remain in the atmosphere for centuries. For this reason, tackling methane emissions represents an important near-term opportunity to mitigate the effects of climate change while humanity completes the herculean task of transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy.
Assistant Professor Alonso Rosas-Hernández is the first researcher to receive a Junior Group Leader grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation CO₂ Research Center (CORC) in November 2022. It is a four-year grant awarded for research that supplements ongoing research in the center and the project and aims to develop novel hybrid catalysts to promote the electroconversion of methane to methanol to counteract methane accumulation in the atmosphere.
The direct conversion of methane to methanol is a promising technology to counteract methane emissions and use this abundant energy resource more efficiently and with a small carbon footprint. The key is the production of an easy-handling liquid fuel that can be stored and transported using the current energy infrastructure, which represents an alternative to flaring and venting processes. Methanol has an essential role as a feedstock in the chemical industry, and there has been a growing interest in its potential use as an energy vector and a platform for synthetic fuels through the established methanol-to-olefins/hydrocarbons technology.
Nevertheless, methane’s lack of chemical reactivity has rendered this process virtually impossible for large-scale applications. Existing thermal catalysts suffer from harsh, energy-intensive reaction conditions and rapid loss in methanol selectivity with increasing methane conversion.
With the CORC Junior Group Leader grant, Alonso Rosas-Hernández and his group aim to develop novel hybrid catalytic architectures for highly selective and efficient electrochemical conversion of methane to methanol under ambient conditions.