Even though natural gas is considered “cleanest” of all fossil fuels, it’s still not entirely clean as it produces some amount of greenhouse gases on combustion. However, there might be a way to make the gas burn even cleaner by using a catalyst.
The 10-element catalyst, being called a Swiss army knife catalyst, will help burn the methane in natural gas at a much lower temperature.
“The more efficiently we burn methane and the less energy we use to burn it, the less greenhouse gas and pollutants it produces. Anything we can do to get this combustion temperature down is an environmental win,” said Reza Shahbazian-Yassar.
Yassar is a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Illinois Chicago and lead author of this study published in the journal Nature Catalysis.
The groundbreaking catalyst with ten elements is very carefully planned. Each element helps reduce the combustion rate and temperature of methane as well as oxygen. Usually, the methane in natural gas burns at 1400 degrees Kelvin (1126.85°C). But the application of this catalyst can help bring the temperature down to 600 to 700 degrees Kelvin (326 - 426.85°C).
Shahbazian-Yassar had formerly worked on research where they multi-element nanoparticle catalysts, known as high entropy alloys. Before the team used a shock-wave technique to create this catalyst formula, nanoparticle catalysts were limited to a maximum of two-three elements. This was because when more elements were used, each element’s atoms would separate from one another rendering the product useless.
“It is almost impossible to maintain a perfect mix of these elements in a solid phase due to the differences in atomic radius, crystal structure, oxidation potential, and electronic properties of the elements,” said co-author Zhennan Huang. But they showed that this was possible to achieve, he added.
Their alloy is made of various transition metals. These are rare-earth elements, noble metals, and oxygen. The resultant single, solid-state crystalline structure remains stable under duress and temperatures as high as 1,073 degrees Kelvin (799.85°C).
According to Science Daily, Shahbazian-Yassar says that they created multiple alloys with multiple elements in the process but they discovered the one with 10 elements was the most effective at reducing the burning point methane. It was also the most stable of all their other experiments.
The application of this catalyst can be helpful in climate preservation. By reducing the combustion temperature of methane, and making the gas burn cleaner, emission of harmful gases is reduced. It can be applied in all-natural gas consumption areas like powering turbines or vehicles that run on CNG to have a better fuel run.