• Sunday, 18 August 2019

Future of fuel may lie in methane-consuming bacteria

Washington D.C. , May 10 : Researchers have finally unveiled the mechanism behind the conversion of methane into readily usable methanol in methanotrophic bacteria. The research could contribute to the future of fuel.

The study published in the journal Science has found that the enzyme, present in the methanotrophic bacteria, responsible for the conversion of methane into methanol catalyses the reaction at a site that contains only one copper ion.

The finding could lead to newly designed, human-made catalysts that can convert methane -- a highly potent greenhouse gas -- to readily usable methanol with the same effortless mechanism.

"The identity and structure of the metal ions responsible for catalysis have remained elusive for decades. Our study provides a major leap forward in understanding how bacteria methane-to-methanol conversion takes place," said Northwestern's Amy C. Rosenzweig, co-senior author of the study.

"By identifying the type of copper centre involved, we have laid the foundation for determining how nature carries out one of its most challenging reactions," said Brian M. Hoffman, co-senior author.

By oxidizing methane and converting it to methanol, methanotrophic bacteria (or 'methanotrophs') can pack a punch or two. Not only are they removing harmful greenhouse gas from the environment, but they are also generating a readily usable, sustainable fuel for automobiles, electricity and more.

Current industrial processes to catalyze a methane-to-methanol reaction require tremendous pressure and extreme temperatures, reaching higher than 1,300 degrees Celsius. Methanotrophs, however, perform the reaction at room temperature and 'for free'.

"While copper sites are known to catalyze methane-to-methanol conversion in human-made materials, methane-to-methanol catalysis at a monocopper site under ambient conditions is unprecedented," said Matthew O. Ross, the paper's first author.

"If we can develop a complete understanding of how they perform this conversion at such mild conditions, we can optimize our own catalysts," said Ross.

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Future of fuel may lie in methane-consuming bacteria

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