MA-T® in energy for decarbonization
MA-T® has made a significant contribution toward carbon neutrality through an oxidative reaction turning methane into methanol. So why is methane used as a fuel important, and what role does MA-T® play?
We explain initiatives in the use of MA-T® in energy, which has potential as we move toward a decarbonized society.
Highly difficult chemical reaction completed
A December 2017 press release from Osaka University heralded “A world first! The synthesis of methanol from methane and air”, astonishing researchers around the world. A research team led by Professor Kei Ohkubo, Institute for Advanced Co-Creation Studies at Osaka University, used MA-T® to produce methanol from air and methane at ambient temperature and pressure. At that time, oxidating methane to produce methanol was considered one of the most challenging chemical reactions, even at high pressure and temperature, with yields of only a few percent. The results of this research into MA-T® were highlighted in the German chemistry magazine, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, as a “very important paper” (VIP), and made the cover page.
Professor Ohkubo discovered the ability to use the reactive oxygen species and chlorine radicals obtained by activating MA-T® with light to produce methanol and formic acid from methane (Figure 1).
A chlorine radical abstracts one hydrogen atom from methane, and active oxygen binds to it, with a yield of nearly 100%. The reaction does not emit carbon dioxide. Early commercialization would assist in the move to a low carbon/decarbonized society.
Energy revolution using MA-T®
Measures to counter global warming are a matter of urgency. In October 2020, declared Japan’s aim to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, in other words, a carbon neutral society. Our association has also set forth a 2030 vision and made an SDG declaration geared toward a sustainable society. We aim to use MA-T®’s oxidation control technology to help mitigate climate change, conserve the global environment, control infectious diseases around the world, and create new industries. We would like to focus on infectious diseases and initiatives to reduce the environmental burden on the road to carbon neutrality.
Meanwhile, unconventional natural gas resources such as shale gas and methane hydrate (which are known but not ordinarily commercialized due to high recovery costs) are in the spotlight. Technological development and infrastructure building with an eye on eventual industrial use are underway. The oxidative reactions of MA-T® are expected to be a breakthrough technology and make major contributions in the use of methane for energy.
There are concerns about the impact of methane as a greenhouse gas (GHG). It accounts for 15.8% of GHGs, but is thought to have a greenhouse effect 20–25 times greater than CO2, so reducing it would have a major impact on global warming (Figure 2). In September 2021, US president Biden announced the launch of initiatives targeting a reduction in methane emissions of at least 30% versus 2020 by 2030.
If MA-T® can be used to convert methane to methanol, issues of energy production and global warming can be solved simultaneously. We intend to step up our open innovation R&D efforts and aim for social implementation.
Carbon neutral energy production
In June 2019, Osaka University signed a partnership agreement with the town of Okoppe in Hokkaido to use biogas obtained from livestock manure to produce methanol and look into practical applications. The ultimate aim is to develop a carbon neutral, recycling oriented dairy farming system (Figure 3). At the opening ceremony in March 2021, Professor Ohkubo presented a commemorative speech titled MA-T®’s Oxidation Control Technology: Toward a Carbon Neutral Society, and gave further details in a panel discussion.
In July 2021, OKPOU, a joint research lab with Osaka University, was established at the Okhotsk Agricultural Science Research Center, and will serve as an experimental base for mass production of methanol. The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) funded a project to develop technology to convert livestock waste biogas to methanol and formic acid as one of its FY2020 research programs. A pilot plant is under construction, with the aim of connecting to future national projects.
These initiatives are attracting interest from overseas as well as Japan. Currently, dairy cow manure is used, and applications for other livestock and use in waste treatment facilities are also under consideration. Our association is preparing to launch an Energy Working Group for national policies and international expansion.
(source: Prof. Kei Ohkubo’s briefing materials)