Nav: Home

New light-based method for faster and 'green' production of building blocks for medicines

July 02, 2020

In industry, gaseous hydrocarbons, such as ethane and methane, are frequently changed into molecules that can act as building blocks for pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. Typically, these processes take place at high temperatures and pressures, and can also produce large amounts of pollutants. Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) have developed a new method for the immediate conversion of gaseous, low-weight hydrocarbons to more complex molecules at room temperatures and low pressures by illuminating the molecules with light in the presence of a suitable catalyst. Notably, this new process is faster and leads to little or no material waste. This work has been published today in the journal Science.

In modern society, gaseous alkanes like propane, isobutane, and methane are regularly combusted for energy. These relatively cheap and plentiful molecules can also be used to produce complex molecules for medicines or chemical products in agriculture.

Current large-scale processes that activate these molecules for subsequent chemical reactions take place at high temperatures and pressures, which are harsh reaction conditions that can be difficult and expensive to maintain, while also leading to substantial waste generation. Also, for the specific case of methane, the high temperatures needed for activation negate the use of any resulting products in medicines as the organic molecules simply disintegrate.

A research team led by Timothy Noël from TU/e, in collaboration with researchers at the ShanghaiTech University (China), University of Pavia (Italy), and Vapourtec Ltd. (UK), have devised a new process for the activation of alkanes using light at room temperature and lower pressure.

Significant breakthrough

"This is a significant breakthrough for converting alkanes into useful building blocks for medicines and materials for other industries," says Noël. "Our approach allows for the immediate use of alkanes for more complex molecules without many unwanted by-products, while at the same time decreasing pollution and simplifying the activation process."

To realize this new process, the researchers had to contend with two main issues. First, they needed a method that could easily sunder or break C-H bonds with a bond dissociation energy (BDE) between 96.5 and 105 kcal mol-1. The C-H bonds in methane are the most difficult to break. Second, the handling of gaseous alkanes requires tailor-made technologies that can bring the alkanes in close contact with a catalyst in a carefully monitored reaction environment. The researchers solved both of these issues by exciting the alkanes with UV light (about 365 nm) in the presence of a suitable catalyst at room temperature.

"The catalyst used is decatungstate. When illuminated, the catalyst becomes highly energetic and then has sufficient energy to split C-H bonds. We find that this works for methane, ethane, propane, and isobutane," says Noël. He adds: "Our new approach is faster than traditional approaches, and we are excited to see how it develops. This study has employed microreactors given that they facilitate greater control over the reaction conditions, better confinement of the gaseous raw materials, and easier illumination of the catalyst. In the future, we will consider reactors that can allow higher production capacities." This new method paves the way for the cheaper production of some medicines given that the cost of activating the gases for their production would be lower.
-end-


Eindhoven University of Technology

Related Methane Articles:

When methane-eating microbes eat ammonia instead
As a side effect of their metabolism, microorganisms living on methane can also convert ammonia.
Making more of methane
Looking closely at the chemical process that transforms methane into useful products could help unveil more efficient ways to use natural gas.
Methane: emissions increase and it's not a good news
It is the second greenhouse gas with even a global warming potential larger than CO2.
Measuring methane from space
A group of researchers from Alaska and Germany is reporting for the first time on remote sensing methods that can observe thousands of lakes and thus allow more precise estimates of methane emissions.
New 3D view of methane tracks sources
NASA's new 3-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations shows the world's second largest contributor to greenhouse warming.
Show me the methane
Though not as prevalent in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas.
Containing methane and its contribution to global warming
Methane is a gas that deserves more attention in the climate debate as it contributes to almost half of human-made global warming in the short-term.
Microorganisms reduce methane release from the ocean
Bacteria in the Pacific Ocean remove large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane.
Origin of massive methane reservoir identified
New research provides evidence of the formation and abundance of abiotic methane -- methane formed by chemical reactions that don't involve organic matter -- on Earth and shows how the gases could have a similar origin on other planets and moons, even those no longer home to liquid water.
Unexpected culprit -- wetlands as source of methane
Knowing how emissions are created can help reduce them.
More Methane News and Methane Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Warped Reality
False information on the internet makes it harder and harder to know what's true, and the consequences have been devastating. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around technology and deception. Guests include law professor Danielle Citron, journalist Andrew Marantz, and computer scientist Joy Buolamwini.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.