Jun 16, 2016 | By Benedict

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have used 3D printing to create a polymer reactor which can continuously produce methanol from methane at room temperature and pressure. The reactor could serve as a more effective means of converting methane into usable energy.

New techniques for oil and gas extraction are increasing the availability of natural gas, which consists largely of methane. Because the gas is notoriously difficult to store and transport, however, large amounts of methane are lost at various stages of the process, decreasing its potential use for energy purposes and potentially contributing to global warming at the same time. At present, converting methane into more valuable products is a costly enterprise: such technologies require high temperature and pressure, and can only realistically operate at very large scales.

LLNL researchers were therefore excited to discover that a 3D printed polymer, created using a large area projection microstereolithography 3D printer, could be used to convert methane into methanol on a much smaller scale and at a fraction of the cost of those large-scale operations. Because of its affordability and compactness, the technology also appears to offer a viable solution to the problem of leaked or “stranded” methane—gas contained in small volumes or lying too far from a pipeline—that needs to be converted into liquids.

To create the new kind of 3D printed reactor, the scientists removed enzymes from methanotrophs—methane-eating bacteria—before mixing them with polymers which were then 3D printed into reactors. “Remarkably, the enzymes retain up to 100 percent activity in the polymer,” said Sarah Baker, LLNL chemist and project lead. “The printed enzyme-embedded polymer is highly flexible for future development and should be useful in a wide range of applications, especially those involving gas-liquid reactions.”

The enzyme methane monooxygenase (MMO) is currently the only catalyst known to convert methane to methanol under normal temperature and pressure conditions. However, carrying out the reaction using methanotrophs requires energy for the upkeep and metabolism of the methane-eating bacteria. To remove this need for energy, the researchers found a way to isolate the enzymes from the organisms, which enabled them to precisely control the reactions with higher conversion efficiency.

“Up to now, most industrial bioreactors are stirred tanks, which are inefficient for gas-liquid reactions,” said Joshuah Stolaroff, an environmental scientist on the team. “The concept of printing enzymes into a robust polymer structure opens the door for new kinds of reactors with much higher throughput and lower energy use.”

Importantly, the researchers also found that the 3D printed polymer could be used over and over again and in higher concentrations than would be possible when deploying the enzyme in the traditionally-used liquid solution.

The LLNL researchers’ findings can be found in the June 15 edition of Nature Communications.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive