The Laboratory of Advanced Materials, belonging to the University of Alicante‘s department of Inorganic Chemistry, has developed a technology that allows the preparation of artificial methane hydrates.
The research has been published by the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.
Research has been led by Joaquín Silvestre Albero, Francisco Rodríguez Reinoso and Manuel Martínez Escandell, and carried out by Mirian E. Casco, who is currently completing an internship at the University of Alicante. These researchers have proven it is possible to prepare methane hydrates in a laboratory by imitating, and even enhancing, natural processes through the use of activated carbon materials as nano-reactors. One of the keys of this research was that scientists were able to reduce the process to form methane hydrates, which takes a long time in nature, to just a few minutes, thus making its technological applicability much easier.
The University of Alicante has been working on the design and synthesis of highly-performing activated carbon for over 30 years. In the words of Joaquín Silvestre, head researcher, “these materials show a great potential to not only eliminate polluting molecules in the air and in industrial waterways, but also to be used as gas storage systems”.
These results are a step forward to understanding the artificial synthesis process of these natural structures, and a new pathway into the use of fuels such as natural gas for transport (instead of petrol and diesel), or for long-distance transport of natural gas (e.g. as opposed to current transport conditions, where gas is liquefied at -162ºC, since this new technique allows for gas to be transported at a temperature that is much closer to room temperature). “Our results show that some of our coals can supply amounts as high as 300 methane volumes stored at 100 atmospheres for each volume unit of wet coal”, researchers say.
Silvestre explains that this research has taken advantage of the so-called “confinement” effect to artificially synthesize methane hydrates inside the coal’s cavities or pores. “Methane hydrates have been prepared on activated carbon materials that were previously wetted under gentler pressure and temperature conditions (30 atmospheres and 2ºC) than in a natural environment”.
Once the synthesis and analysis had been carried out at the University of Alicante’s laboratories, the study went on to its final stage in Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxford (United Kingdom), where neutron scattering was performed, and in ALBA synchrotron in Barcelona (Spain). “These studies are the first experimental evidence that it is possible to form methane hydrates in a confined space, with a nature-like stoichiometry and significantly higher kinetics”.
Read more: Researchers create artificial methane hydrates and open an innovative pathway for the use of new fuels