Methane-consuming bacteria could be future of fuel: study
CHICAGO, May 10 (Xinhua) — Researchers at Northwestern University (NU) have found that the enzyme responsible for the methane-methanol conversion in methanotrophic bacteria catalyzes this reaction at a site that contains just one copper ion.
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 study’s first author and a graduate student at NU. “If we can develop a complete understanding of how they perform this conversion at such mild conditions, we can optimize our own catalysts.”
“The identity and structure of the metal ions responsible for catalysis have remained elusive for decades,” said Amy C. Rosenzweig, a professor of life sciences in NU’s Weinberg College of Arts and Science. “Our study provides a major leap forward in understanding how bacteria perform methane-to-methanol conversion.”
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.
By oxidizing methane and converting it to methanol, methanotrophic bacteria or “methanotrophs” are not only removing a harmful greenhouse gas from the environment, but 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.”
The study was published on Friday in the journal Science.