Scientists use visible light to process methane into green hydrogen and high-performance materials

The polluting emission is rarely recycled and does much damage to the planet.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Gas plants release methane.jpg
Gas plants release methane.


Methane is an extremely harmful emission and one that is rarely recycled. Now, researchers from the University of Central Florida have found a way to transform it into energy and materials.

This is according to a press release by the institution published on Friday.

The new development is the work of nanotechnologist Laurene Tetard and catalysis expert Richard Blair.

The first invention

The first invention consists of a method to generate hydrogen from methane, without releasing any carbon gas.

“That invention is actually a twofer,” Blair said. “You get green hydrogen, and you remove — not really sequester — methane. You’re processing methane into just hydrogen and pure carbon that can be used for things like batteries.”

The second invention

The second invention may one day allow the creation of high-performance carbon materials from methane.

“It’s like having a carbon 3D printer instead of a polymer 3D printer,” Tetard explained. “If we have a tool like this, then maybe there are even some carbon scaffolding designs we can come up with that are impossible today.”

“So, this invention would be a way to make such materials from methane in a sustainable manner on a large industrial scale,” Blair added.

This innovation, according to the scientists, could have unlimited applications.

“Now you’re talking high-dollar applications, perhaps for medical devices or new chemical sensors,” Blair added. “This becomes a platform for developing all sorts of products. The application is only limited by the imagination.”

Tetard added that if they can reduce the size of the resulting structures they could expand their reach.

“Right now, the size of the structures is microscale because the light focal volume we create is microsize,” she explained. “So, if we can control the light in a tiny volume, maybe we can grow nano-sized objects for patterned nanostructures a thousand times smaller. That’s something we’re thinking of implementing in the future. And then, if that becomes possible, there are many things we can do with that.”

These innovations might seem impressive but success did not come easy to the two collaborators. They had to try many times to get their inventions working right.

“It took a while to get some really exciting results,” Tetard said “In the beginning, a lot of the characterization that we tried to do was not working the way we wanted. We sat down to discuss puzzling observations so many times.”

But that didn’t stop them and in the end their efforts paid off.

“Richard has a million different ideas on how to fix problems,” Tetard said. “So eventually, we would find something that works.”