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CarbonHouse

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,726,606
Location: 
Cambridge, MA
Project Term: 
03/09/2020 to 03/08/2023
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Predictions of a global doubling of buildings and infrastructure by 2050 (1 million people per week from now until 2050 joining urban communities) present an intractable material supply and processing problem. Many current materials used in buildings are highly energy intensive. Fossil fuels provide the energy to mine, transport, and manufacture these earth-surface minerals and metals into heavy, multi-material, many-jointed building envelopes. Such buildings require significant heating and cooling. The energy consumption of buildings and consequent pollution demands a new material paradigm. Low energy-intensity and low-mass building materials and building envelopes that are highly insulating with few joints are required.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
This CarbonHouse project seeks to validate that carbon derived from methane pyrolysis can be used as both structural and non-structural building materials. Carbon composites already offer an alternative material paradigm for large, lightweight, high-performance structural uses such as boats and aircraft. CarbonHouse targets gas-pyrolysis production of carbon nanotube (CNT) threads and sheets, with hydrogen co-generated as a supplemental high-energy fuel, which would offer an essentially benign new building logic if it can be managed economically and at vast scale. This project aims to demonstrate an ultra-low life cycle energy and CO2 footprint for building envelopes and all functional elements at a commercially feasible life cycle cost of ownership. Through material-processing exploration and prototyping/testing building elements for fire, structure, acoustics, etc., and fabricating pilot building envelopes, the project looks to use hydrocarbon-derived composites to create minimal-footprint habitation.
Potential Impact: 
The project's goal is to demonstrate the benefit of using carbon (in several forms) as a building material, replacing a large fraction of minerals and metals for building structures and also for thermal and electrical systems.
Security: 
The team will demonstrate an inexpensive, high-quality alternative building paradigm that will benefit governments, developers, and financiers in the ongoing critical period of urban expansion and environmental change.
Environment: 
The team will perform detailed life cycle analyses of embodied and in-use energy of hydrocarbon reserves as building materials, comparing them to current building materials as low-footprint viable alternatives.
Economy: 
Use of carbon derived from methane pyrolysis as a structural building material would upgrade the value of an otherwise abundant, inexpensive byproduct into affordable habitation, which will be crucial for growing populations.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Marc von Keitz
Project Contact: 
Prof. Mark Goulthorpe
Release Date: 
11/15/2018