Scientists have identified an enzyme that helps some bacteria remove methane from the environment and convert it into a usable fuel, thus paving the way for creating a sustainable source of energy.
Known for their ability, methanotrophic bacteria have long fascinated researchers, and a team from the Northwestern University, US found that the enzyme responsible for the methane-methanol conversion catalyses this reaction at a site that contains just one copper ion.
The finding could lead to newly designed, human-made catalysts that can convert methane to readily usable methanol with the same effortless mechanism. “The identity and structure of the metal ions responsible for catalysis have remained elusive for decades,” said Amy C Rosenzweig, from Northwestern University.
The study, published in the journal Science, showed that by oxidising methane and converting it to methanol, methanotrophic bacteria can pack a punch. Not only are they removing a harmful greenhouse gas from the environment, they are also generating a readily usable, sustainable fuel for automobiles, electricity and more.
Current industrial processes to catalyse a methane-to-methanol reaction require tremendous pressure and extreme temperatures, reaching higher than 1,300 degrees Celsius. Methanotrophs, however, perform the reaction at room temperature and “for free.”