Flares are back in fashion

A group of newly discovered catalysts could provide a solution to the slow-burning problem of finding an economical way to exploit natural gas wasted as "flare" from oil wells. Johannes Lercher and colleagues a Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, have developed stable, lanthanum-based catalysts that can convert methane and hydrogen chloride efficiently into the useful starting material of methyl chloride. The researchers used activity and spectroscopic measurements to demonstrated that lanthanum oxychloride (LaOCl), lanthanum trichloride (LaCl3), and lanthanum phases with intermediate coordination of chlorine are all active for this reaction. Methyl chloride can in turn be converted to olefins with known catalysts, thus providing an effective means to exploit methane as a chemical industry feedstock.