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Professor Tao's new catalyst featured in C&E News

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

New catalyst makes acetic acid by coupling methane, carbon monoxide, and oxygen​

While methane is plentiful, it’s not very reactive. To get this stable molecule to marry other molecules usually takes costly energy and blazing heat. Is there a way to charm methane to react at more of a low simmer? 

Franklin (Feng) Tao, University of Kansas Miller Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and his colleagues are tackling this challenge.

The group recently discovered a catalyst that drives methane to couple with carbon monoxide and oxygen at low temperature. The resulting product is mostly acetic acid, a pungent colorless liquid used widely in food, chemical and medical industries.

The catalyst’s ability to coax steadfast methane to hook up with carbon monoxide and oxygen lies in its structure. Isolated rhodium atoms dot the inside of the micropores winding through an aluminosilicate zeolite mineral called ZSM-5. After analyzing the catalyst with various methods, including X-ray absorption spectroscopy, Tao’s team revealed that RhO5 species are anchored to the zeolite, which are a thousand times more active than rhodium species free-floating in solution. 

Tao presented this work at the 2018 American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans as part of a symposium organized by the Division of Catalysis Science & Technology.​  Chemical and Engineering News reported the discovery on March 19. 

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