Scientists to study conversion of methane to useful fuels

04 OCTOBER 00 | Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology will each receive $10 million from BP over the next 10 years to study converting methane to useful liquid fuels and chemicals.

The discovery of large natural gas reserves around the world has stimulated BP's efforts to catalytically convert methane to useful end products, such as much cleaner fuels and chemicals that are more economical to transport and market.

"We believe the next breakthrough in natural gas to liquids, which will help bring us the next generation of cleaner burning fuels, will come from catalysis combined with process engineering, and these two universities have some of the world's finest scientific and engineering minds to help us accomplish this," said Sir John Browne, group chief executive of BP.

Headed by chemistry professor Alex Bell, the Berkeley group will focus on heterogeneous catalytic approaches for producing liquid fuels and chemicals. Building on its strength in understanding catalyst structure-performance relationships, this group will seek breakthroughs in catalyst and process design for both direct and indirect conversion of methane.

The Caltech team, led by professors Jay Labinger and John Bercaw, will develop novel homogeneous catalytic approaches, building on work it has pursued for several years.

The research will be directed by faculty members and will involve undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral level students. Under the proposal, each university will work closely with BP and receive $1 million per year for ten years for the study of methane conversion.

"We are excited about this integrated research approach to solving a complex scientific problem, which potentially could result in significant environmental, economic and societal benefits," said Chancellor Berdahl. "It is consistent with the type of public-private partnering we like to undertake. The educational aspects of the program will contribute to the preparation of talented young researchers and will enable them to interact with leading research groups and with projects at the forefront of science and technology.

"The experience gained by the young men and women working on the program will contribute significantly to their preparation for a career in either industry or academe," Berdahl said. "In part, it is for just this reason that universities seek out private funding sources for their research programs.


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