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College of Chemistry

2003 News Index

Liquid-phase CH4 sulfonation: Alex Bell

Chemical engineering professor Alex Bell

from Chemical and Engineering News

The direct catalytic functionalization of methane, which is available in large reserves around the world, to value-added products such as methanol and methanesulfonic acid (MSA) under mild reaction conditions is one of the key challenges facing chemists and chemical engineers.

Professor of chemical engineering Alexis T. Bell and postdoc Sudip Mukhopadhyay have now developed a liquid-phase process for selectively converting methane to MSA at relatively low temperature [Chem. Commun., 2003, 1590]. The pair sulfonated CH4 at 85 °C in a high-pressure, glass-lined autoclave using sulfur dioxide as the sulfonating agent and molecular oxygen as the oxidant. They employed trifluoromethanesulfonic acid as the reaction medium and a redox catalyst system containing Pd(II) and Cu(II) salts. Methane was used in large excess relative to SO2, the limiting reagent.

"Since no other products besides MSA are produced, the methane consumption is equivalent to the consumption of the limiting reagent," Bell tells C&EN. The researchers isolated the MSA by distillation under reduced pressure and identified and quantitated it using NMR spectroscopy.

Related sites:

Alex Bell research group

Chemical and Engineering News

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