Using a new hybrid breed of computational and experimental chemistry, an international team of chemists, led by the Institute for Basic Science’s (IBS) Center for Catalytic Hydrocarbon Functionalizations’ Associate Director Mu-Hyun Baik, was able to solve a puzzle that has been dubbed a “Holy Grail reaction” and devise a method for catalyzing reactions with methane, according to a release on the IBS site.
Baik was able to model the reactions with the metal catalyst and supporting ligand (an otherwise inert organic molecule that helps to activate the transition metal catalyst) and after finding success in the virtual setting.
In the lab, the experimental arm of the team tested a variety of combinations of ligands until they had found the one that worked most efficiently. They used this ligand with different combinations of catalyst and for varied durations to determine the optimum reaction.
Being able to manipulate methane means it can be easily converted to liquid methanol and shipped for fuel. Besides fuel, petroleum provides the building blocks for things like medicine, fertilizers, and plastics.