ConspectusMethane represents one of the most abundant carbon sources for fuel or chemical production. However, remote geographical locations and high transportation costs result in a substantial proportion being flared at the source. The selective oxidation of methane to methanol remains a grand challenge for catalytic chemistry due to the large energy barrier for the initial C-H activation and prevention of overoxidation to CO2. Indirect methods such as steam reforming produce CO and H2 chemical building blocks, but they consume large amounts of energy over multistage processes. This makes the development of the low-temperature selective oxidation of methane to methanol highly desirable and explains why it has remained an active area of research over the last 50 years.The thermodynamically favorable oxidation of methane to methanol would ideally use only molecular oxygen. Nature effects this transformation with the enzyme methane monooxygenase (MMO) in aqueous solution at ambient temperature with the addition of 2 equiv of a reducing cofactor. MMO active sites are Fe and Cu oxoclusters, and the incorporation of these metals into zeolitic frameworks can result in biomimetic activity. Most approaches to methane oxidation using metal-doped zeolites use high temperature with oxygen or N2O; however, demonstrations of catalytic cycles without catalyst regeneration cycles are limited. Over the last 10 years, we have developed Fe-Cu-ZSM-5 materials for the selective oxidation of methane to methanol under aqueous conditions at 50 °C using H2O2 as an oxidant (effectively O2 + 2 reducing equiv), which compete with MMO in terms of activity. To date, these materials are among the most active and selective catalysts for methane oxidation under this mild condition, but industrially, H2O2 is an expensive oxidant to use in the production of methanol.This observation of activity under mild conditions led to new approaches to utilize O2 as the oxidant. Supported precious metal nanoparticles have been shown to be active for a range of C-H activation reactions using O2 and H2O2, but the rapid decomposition of H2O2 over metal surfaces limits efficiency. We identified that this decomposition could be minimized by removing the support material and carrying out the reaction with colloidal AuPd nanoparticles. The efficiency of methanol production with H2O2 consumption was increased by 4 orders of magnitude, and crucially it was demonstrated for the first time that molecular O2 could be incorporated into the methanol produced with 91% selectivity. The understanding gained from these two approaches provides valuable insight into possible new routes to selective methane oxidation which will be presented here in the context of our own research in this area.
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