3D printed polymer converts methane to methanol

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have recently combined biology and 3D printing to create the first reactor that can continuously produce methanol from methane at room temperature and pressure. The team removed enzymes from methanotrophs, bacteria that eat methane, and mixed them with polymers that they printed or molded into innovative 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.”

A technology to efficiently convert methane to other hydrocarbons is needed as a profitable way to convert “stranded” sources of methane and natural gas (sources that are small, temporary or not close to a pipeline) to liquids for further processing, the team reported.

The team found that isolated enzymes offer the promise of highly controlled reactions at ambient conditions with higher conversion efficiency and greater flexibility. The team also found that the 3-D-printed polymer could be reused over many cycles and used in higher concentrations than possible with the conventional approach of the enzyme dispersed in solution. Other Livermore team members include: Jennifer Knipe, Craig Blanchette, Joshua DeOtte, James Oakdale, Amitesh Maiti and Jeremy Lenhardt.