Scientists in Berlin are trying to harness a readily available resource for the chemical industry. A by-product of petroleum extraction, methane gas is usually burnt off unused.
The researchers want to use it to synthesize ethylene, a precursor material for many kinds of plastics. For that, they need to find the appropriate catalyst, a substance that will make the transformation of methane into ethylene quicker and more energy-efficient. The work is being overseen by Chemistry Laureate Gerhard Ertl. He worked for nearly two decades at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, and is considered one of the pioneers of modern surface catalysis research. Tomorrow Today paid a visit to Prof. Ertl and his collaborators in the lab to ask if the right catalyst is indeed the key to clean chemistry.