The invention provides processes and materials for the efficient and cost-effective functionalization of alkanes, such as methane from natural gas, to provide esters, alcohols, and other compounds. The method can be used to produce liquid fuels such as methanol from a natural gas methane-containing feedstock. The soft oxidizing electrophile, a compound of a main group, post-transitional element such as Tl, Pb, Bi, and I, that reacts to activate the alkane C--H bond can be regenerated using inexpensive regenerants such as hydrogen peroxide, oxygen, halogens, nitric acid, etc. Main group compounds useful for carrying out this reaction includes haloacetate salts of metals having a pair of available oxidation states, such as Tl, Pb, Bi, and I. The inventors herein believe that a unifying feature of many of the MXn electrophiles useful in carrying out this reaction, such as Tl, Pb, and Bi species, is their isoelectronic configuration in the alkane-reactive oxidation state; the electrons having the configuration [Xe]4f145d10, with an empty 6s orbital. However, the iodine reagents have a different electronic configuration.
STATEMENT OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT
 This invention was made with government support under GQ10044-133945 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The government has certain rights in the invention.