The direct conversion of methane into liquid chemicals could be very valuable, but no catalysts are known that can do this efficiently and under mild conditions. Junjun Shan et al. now show that mononuclear rhodium species anchored on zeolite or titanium dioxide supports catalyse the direct conversion of methane to methanol and acetic acid, using oxygen and carbon monoxide and under mild conditions. Methanol and acetic acid, which are both widely used in the chemical industry, form through different pathways, so methane conversion can be tuned to produce either compound with selectivities of 70%–100%. The remarkable activity of the catalysts is still far from being technologically relevant, but could guide the development of next-generation catalysts and processes for directly converting methane into useful chemicals.
- Mild oxidation of methane to methanol or acetic acid on supported isolated rhodium catalysts (Letter p605, doi: 10.1038/nature24640)
- Methane upgraded by rhodium (News & Views p575, doi: 10.1038/d41586-017-07437-9)
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