It might not turn the oil industry green, but it would be a start. A catalyst that allows waste gas to be easily converted into a useful chemical could cut the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Since 2002, the World Bank has been urging oil firms to stop “gas flaring” – burning the methane that sits above oil deposits. Yet economic ways to exploit the gas have been elusive. Now Johannes Lercher and colleagues at the Technical University of Munich in Germany have found that lanthanum chlorides catalyse a reaction between methane, hydrogen chloride and oxygen. This produces methyl chloride, a key plastics-industry chemical.

Oil firms could produce the material as a by-product and sell it, they suggest (Journal of the American Chemical Society, DOI: 10.1021/ja066913w).

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