The Science

What is Methane?

Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming. It’s also the same substance as natural gas, the fuel used in many places to heat homes, cook food and generate electricity. When burned as a fuel, each molecule of methane is converted into a molecule of the less potent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).

How Potent is Methane?

Methane is 28x more potent than CO2. But where does this number come from?

Methane is actually 166 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat! But over time, methane in the atmosphere breaks down into CO2, which traps less heat from that point forward. When scientists compare the impact of different greenhouse gasses, they average the warming effect over a standard length of time, usually a century.

In the case of methane, when averaged over a century, it works out to be 28x as potent as CO2. As you can see in the chart above, reducing the amount of methane in the air is very important to slow down climate change happening today. Many responsible organizations take this into account when they choose how to address emissions.

Where Does Methane Come From?

Methane emissions are produced from various human and natural sources in our environment. Some common examples include:

  1. Oil and Gas: Producing the energy that powers our cars and heats our homes is an important sector of the economy. But the vast network of wellsites, pipelines, and other energy sector activities is our number one methane source. While the industry has been focused on reducing methane emissions, many point sources that remain today are technically or economically impractical to solve.
  2. Agriculture: Sheep, goats, and especially cows contribute to making agriculture our second largest methane source. As cows digest their food, they release methane. It’s a natural process and tricky to prevent.
  3. People: Consider a home furnace that’s 98% efficient. Even in this case, 2% of the natural gas it uses, which is methane, will be vented directly into the atmosphere. Roughly 36% of the total emissions impact from this furnace comes from that 2% of un-burned methane. Garbage and wastewater are more examples – these break down in landfills and treatment plants into methane and carbon dioxide, some of which ends up in the air. While it’s possible to improve furnace efficiency and reduce our waste, it is expensive to prevent many of our own methane emissions today.
  4. Natural Releases: As the world warms, enormous amounts of methane may be released from natural sources like permafrost and wetlands. The world need to prevent this from happening, but also be ready with solutions in case these methane releases can’t be stopped and cause runaway global warming.

How Does Inversion Point Remove Methane?

Our solution involves using hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). You’ve probably used hydrogen peroxide in a first aid kit to sterilize a cut, or used it when removing stains from clothing, cleaning a pool, or even as a part of your whitening toothpaste! It’s a useful disinfectant and breaks down into water and oxygen.

When H2O2 is exposed to UV light from the sun, it breaks down into two hydroxide radicals (OH). Hydroxide radicals are a natural part of the air around us. Since the 1950s, scientists have understood the role of hydroxide radicals in keeping the world’s air clean and free from pollutants.

These radicals act like a detergent in the atmosphere, breaking down methane into carbon dioxide and water. It also breaks down other pollutants like volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide.

Inversion Point is building technology to safely use low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide to increase the amount of methane that is broken down high in the air. This way, excess methane will break down into CO2 sooner, and lose most of its greenhouse gas potency.