The reactions of methane in the electric discharge



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The terrific waste of natural gas in American oil fields has long been deplored by engineers and economists. Especially to Texas with its tremendous petroleum resources, is the problem important. Various attempts have been made to utilise natural gas profitably, but to date its only successful function has been that of a fuel. Yet the supply so far out strips the demand for fuel that the problem remains a momentous one. Numerous studies of the cracking of methane have been made in the hope of obtaining products which could be used commercially either directly or as intermediates for the synthesis of commercially important materials. Unfortunately, pyrogenic decomposition has yielded products of little industrial value. It has been known, however, since the time of Berthelot that the passing of an electric spark through methane resulted in the formation of acetylene, carbon and hydrogen. Since pyrogenic cracking seemed to be of little use it was considered that a detailed study of the decomposition of methane by the passage of electric charges through it might lead to a method of controlling the rate of activation and hence the kind of products formed. It was decided to work in the pressure range between 10 mm. and 250 mm. of mercury, since in this range the temperature of the discharge should be sufficiently low to minimize pyrogenic decomposition, yet the pressure would not be so low as to be industrially inapplicable. Unfortunately, no industrial applications have been realized, but a great deal of information concerning the mechanism of conduction of electric current through an arc and of the reaction rate and products has been obtained. It is the object of this paper to discuss the reaction products of methane in the various types of discharge studied, together with the rate of reaction

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