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Oxidative Oligomerization of Methane

Senior Investigators: Prof. Melanie Sanford (U. Mich.), Prof. Jim Mayer (U. Wash.).

Methane (the primary component of natural gas) is highly abundant on earth, and will be an increasingly important source of global energy as petroleum supplies are depleted. However, the widespread use of methane remains limited by the difficulty and expense associated with transporting this flammable gas over long distances. As a result, efficient chemical reactions that directly convert methane into more readily transportable higher alkanes would be of great significance for helping to meet growing global energy demands. The goal of this project is to develop transition metal catalysts for the direct oxidative dimerization and/or oligomerization of methane to form higher alkanes using dioxygen as a terminal oxidant. This approach would be highly advantageous, as the current route from methane to higher alkanes requires an energy-intensive sequence involving initial steam reforming to generate syngas followed by Fisher Tropsch synthesis to form the desired hydrocarbon products. 

                          oligomerization of methane

In addition to applications in methane chemistry, we anticipate that catalysts developed in this CENTC project will prove useful for direct oxidative C–C bond-forming reactions of more complex molecules. The construction of aryl–aryl, alkyl–aryl, and alkyl–alkyl bonds is of critical importance in the synthesis of polymeric materials, pharmaceuticals, and specialty chemicals. A route to achieve such C–C bond-forming reactions selectively starting directly from C–H substrates would be particularly efficient and environmentally beneficial.

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