The Dow Chemical Company has announced that Cardiff University and Northwestern University have been awarded research grants which together total over US$6.4 mln as part of the 2007 Dow Methane Challenge. The challenge was initiated by Dow in March 2007 to identify collaborators and approaches in the area of methane conversion to chemicals.
The Methane Challenge seeks to discover revolutionary chemical processes. Mastery of methane chemistry would provide a completely new foundation for production of chemicals and liquid fuels, bringing an alternative to petroleum in these applications and enabling the use of plentiful, though often remote, natural gas that today is uneconomical to transport to market. It could also reduce the flaring of gas associated with petroleum production and might even provide a means to upgrade landfill gas. Methane has resisted the attempts of chemists over the last century to directly react and selectively form other chemicals. Recognizing the need for creative approaches, Dow Chemical took the unusual step of undertaking an open solicitation in an attempt to leave no stone unturned in the quest for innovative concepts. By bringing together its chemists and chemical engineers with the teams led by Cardiff and Northwestern, Dow hopes to develop world- changing technologies.
The Alternative Feedstock Program in Dow's Hydrocarbon and Energy (H&E) Business addresses providing advantaged raw materials for chemical production through a portfolio of opportunities addressing near, intermediate and long- term options. The Methane Challenge is a component of the program and is an example of long-term, innovative discovery research. Other parts of the program address more immediate feedstock issues, such as Dow's recently announced sugarcane-to-polyethylene project in Brazil and research on clean chemical production from coal.
Approximately 100 proposals from around the world were received in response to Dow's open solicitation, representing top universities, institutes, and companies. The focus of the challenge was the conversion of methane, the major component of natural gas, to chemical feedstock. Methane is particularly attractive as a raw material because of the presence of large reserves of natural gas in many parts of the world, but the technology for the conversion of these reserves to chemicals and liquid fuels remains elusive. Dow's goal is to develop technologies to take natural gas and produce the intermediates that form the foundation of today's chemical industry.
Proposals were evaluated and the ten finalists were asked to submit detailed, confidential proposals. Consultants hired to judge the proposals selected the teams led by Cardiff and Northwestern. While Cardiff and Northwestern are the homes of the team leaders, both teams have sought expertise outside their university communities and are multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary teams.