Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. Although some emissions are natural, most are driven by human activity, and rapidly slashing emissions could help slow global warming, experts say. So scientists are hard at work finding ways to mitigate the greenhouse gas, according to a new cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society.
Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is crucial for combating climate change, but the carbon dioxide already emitted will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, meaning that it will take time for mitigation efforts to show benefits. In contrast, methane’s average lifetime is 12 years, but it has 84 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide over 20 years. Therefore, cutting it now would produce more immediate results for slowing global warming, writes Senior Correspondent Katherine Bourzac. About 60% of methane emissions come from humans, with the fossil fuel industry and agriculture being the two largest contributors. Researchers are trying to find ways to cut emissions that will provide the greatest climate benefit for the least economic pain.
One of the most cost-effective ways is for the fossil fuel industry, a substantial source of methane emissions, to seal abandoned wells and mines, repair faulty equipment and mend pipeline leaks. High-resolution methane-monitoring satellites set to launch in coming years will make it easier to spot leaks and will supply publicly available data about emissions. And some scientists propose technologies for capturing methane from the atmosphere and converting it into carbon dioxide, which they argue would reduce warming overall. Although there are significant chemistry challenges for methane capture and conversion, scientists say that zeolites decorated with catalytic copper or iron are the most promising materials to get the job done.