Scientists discover materials that capture methane

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is released in the atmosphere by various means, including cow flatulence. Scientists say that they have discovered a new material able to capture and concentrate methane. So far, the ability to capture methane has been very difficult because methane interacts weakly with other materials. Scientist Amitesh Maiti, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been working on a new solution to the problem of capturing methane (not pictured below).

The researcher and his associates have discovered that various forms of zeolites, which are materials commonly used in water purification and for other industrial processes are well suited to capturing methane. According to the researcher, the compound works well because its crystalline structure can be fine-tuned for various gas separation or storage applications. The researchers used computer simulations to search a database of about 100,000 different forms of zeolites.

The process revealed several that are promising and could be used for capturing methane. Maiti told NBC News that a couple zeolite forms his team investigated already exist and have been produced before. However, some of the zeolites are theoretical and have never been produced.

The computer simulation showed that the material could capture low concentrations of the methane that vent from coal mines or piles of manure. The material is able to concentrate the methane up to over 5%. Slightly over 5% is the flammability limit of the gas. Interestingly, one application for concentrated methane is for use in energy generation. That means that this process is not only green in the fact that prevents methane from escaping into the atmosphere, but it can also help produce electricity. The EPA Estimates that about one quarter of the methane released in the US each year is produced by cattle, sheep, and pigs belching.

[via NBC News]