Ushio participates in Osaka University’s joint research and development project on conversion of methane gas into formic acid and methanol

Ushio Inc. (Head Office: Tokyo; President & CEO: Koji Naito; hereinafter “Ushio”) announced today that it is taking part in a joint research and development project for the conversion of methane gas into formic acid and methanol, headed by the Institute for Open and Transdisciplinary Research Initiatives, Osaka University (Director: Takao Onoye).

Biogas generated through the anaerobic fermentation of livestock manure contains approximately 60% methane, which is a greenhouse gas that can be used as energy. Plants were constructed in several areas to use such biogas as energy, where heat and electricity are obtained by using methane gas as fuels for boilers and power generators. However, the process has the issue of generating carbon dioxide. Much of the intended use of the generated electric power has been the sale of electricity through the feed-in tariff system (FIT)*1. Now, with the FIT expected to be abolished in the near future, many discussions are being made with respect to the use of biogas after the FIT ends.

The research group led by Professor Kei Ohkubo, achieved a world first in converting methane and air into methanol and formic acid without CO2 emissions under the ordinary temperature and normal pressure conditions by leveraging photooxygenation using chlorine dioxide (see chart 1). This achievement was announced in February 2018*2.
          Chart 1: Photooxygenation of methane using chlorine dioxide

With this background, it has been decided that Ushio, leveraging the optical technologies it has developed, will provide the consortium led by Osaka University with light and reactors best adapted to such light-dependent reactions.

Through the application of this chemical technology, part of the biogas emitted in biomass businesses, dairy farming, sewage disposal and other businesses can be used as storable and transportable liquid energy, such as formic acid and methanol, without causing a greenhouse effect. It is expected that this will help facilitate the local production and consumption of energy, recycling-oriented dairy farming in the community, and other initiatives. Going forward, the consortium will proceed with further research and development for practical utilization and start demonstration experiments in 2023, with a view toward commercialization in 2027.

With an eye on achieving its vision for 2030 of becoming a "light solutions company," Ushio will seek to solve future social issues through Ushio businesses with a focus on light, while also growing its economic value by enhancing its social value. In conjunction with this vision, Ushio has been advancing research and development by utilizing a range of technologies that Ushio has been developing since its founding, such as those related to optics, light sources and biology, to contribute to efforts to combat global warming, a significant global challenge. Participation in the consortium is part of these efforts.

In its measures for curbing global warming, Ushio will continue to conduct the social implementation of its light-related technologies going forward, and by doing so, will contribute to realizing a world in which people live happily while simultaneously maintaining net-zero CO2 emissions on the planet.

*1 A system whereby the government guarantees that power companies purchase power generated using renewable energy sources at a fixed price, for a fixed period of time.
*2 Announced in Feb. 2018
Kei Ohkubo, Kensaku Hirose, Light-Driven C-H Oxygenation of Methane into Methanol and Formic Acid by Molecular Oxygen Using a Perfluorinated Solvent
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2018. 57, 2126-2129. 

■ Descriptions of terms
[Formic acid] The material is used as an additive for the production of silage, or feedstuff for cows. In light of its potential for functioning as a hydrogen carrier in recent years, research is underway for the development of catalysts.

[Methanol] Also called methyl alcohol. The material is used broadly as a fuel, solvent, etc. It is used as a raw material for basic chemical products such as a phenolic resin, adhesive agent and acetic acid. Recently, expectations have been emerging for the practical application of direct methanol fuel cells. However, requiring high temperature and pressure for synthesizing is seen as a challenge.

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