A major disadvantage of the present process of producing methanol through syngas is the large energy requirement of the first highly endothermic steam reforming step. The process is also inefficient in the sense that it first transforms methane in an oxidative reaction to carbon monoxide (and some CO2) which, in turn, must be reduced again to methanol. The direct selective transformation of methane to methanol is therefore a highly desirable goal, but this is difficult to accomplish in a practical way (with high conversion and selectivity). It would, however, eliminate the processing step for producing syn-gas, increase the amount of methanol to be obtained, and save on capital costs in commercial plants. The main problem associated with the direct oxidation of methane to methanol is the higher reactivity of the oxidation products themselves (methanol, formaldehyde and formic acid) compared to methane, giving eventually CO2 and water - that is, the thermodynamically favored complete combustion of methane.
Finely tuned reaction conditions to achieve high conversion without complete oxidation producing CO2 are thus explored. At present, however, no process has yet succeeded in achieving the combination of high yield, selectivity and catalyst stability that would make direct oxidative conversion competitive with conventional syn-gas-based methanol production methods.
A number of ways exist for the oxidation of methane. These include homogeneous gas phase oxidation, heterogeneous catalytic oxidation, and photochemical and electrophilic oxidations .
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