UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied ScienceIs there a more efficient way to turn methanol into useful chemicals, such as liquid fuels? Current methods of processing methanol require high temperatures, high pressures and expensive catalysts. And the process typically results in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Now, researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science say they have developed a more efficient method for methanol processing that would lower production costs while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Methanol, a product of natural gas, is commonly used as a feedstock chemical for processing into gasoline and other chemicals such as solvents, adhesives, paints and plastics.

With natural gas production on the increase, the efficient utilization of one-carbon compounds for chemical synthesis would reduce raw material costs for the petroleum-based chemical industry, the scientists point out in a research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The article explains how they constructed a synthetic biocatalytic pathway, called the methanol condensation cycle (MCC), which allows the efficient conversion of methanol to higher-chain alcohols or other higher carbon compounds with no carbon loss or ATP expenditure. The high carbon efficiency and favorable operating conditions are attractive for industrial applications, the researchers believe.

"Methanol is a largely untapped resource in the bioprocessing industry," said Igor Bogorad, a UCLA Ph.D. student in bioengineering and co-author of the research paper. "The current dogma has been to find better uses of plant-derived sugars. However, methanol offers many advantages and its availability is expected to increase."