Methane gas, a vast natural resource, is often burned off at oil wells in a process called flaring, which currently wastes 150 billion cubic meters of the gas each year and generates a staggering 400 million tons of carbon dioxide. That contributes significantly to global warming. Letting the gas escape unburned would lead to even greater environmental harm, however, because methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is.
Why is all this methane being wasted? The answer, as the saying goes in the real estate business, is simple: location, location, location.
In places where it is convenient to do so, methane that would otherwise be flared off when drilling for petroleum is captured and used to generate electrical power or produce chemicals. However, special equipment is needed to cool and pressurize methane gas, and pressurized containers or pipelines are needed to transport it. In many places, such as offshore oil platforms or remote oil fields far from the needed infrastructure, that’s just not economically viable.
But now, assistant professor of chemistry Yogesh Surendranath, PhD ’11, and three colleagues have found a way to use electricity, which could potentially come from renewable sources, to convert methane into derivatives of methanol, a liquid that can be made into automotive fuel or used to produce a variety of chemical products. This new method, using electrically generated catalysts, may allow for lower-cost methane conversion at remote sites, and it could pave the way to making use of a significant methane supply that is otherwise totally wasted.
A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?
Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.
A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate
Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.
10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023
These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway
Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.