This Exploratory Topic would develop high value methane pyrolysis, including approaches that can economically convert natural gas to both fuel cell-grade hydrogen and higher value carbon materials (e.g., carbon fiber) with a low CO2 footprint. The emphasis of these projects is to identify scalable approaches to the development of fuel cell-grade hydrogen, while also advancing the identification, understanding, and control of new reaction conditions and processes necessary to direct carbon formation.
The United States currently produces roughly 10 million tons of hydrogen per year from two processes: steam methane reforming that converts natural gas and water into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, and electrolysis of water to hydrogen and oxygen. Both of these traditional methods provide for the production of hydrogen with little or no release of carbon dioxide (through CO2 capture and sequestration in the steam methane process), but there is an inherent opportunity in hydrogen production process to create useful carbon byproducts. Developing high value methane pyrolysis becomes comparably more favorable and economically beneficial when it creates a viable carbon byproduct.
Projects Funded Within This Exploratory Topic
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
ENERGY-EFFICIENT CONVERSION OF METHANE-DERIVED CARBON INTO VALUABLE CARBON FIBERS
Johns Hopkins University aims to develop an energy-efficient, scalable approach to convert methane into hydrogen and valuable graphitized carbon fibers (GCFs). The team will focus on conversion and transformation of low-quality carbon materials derived from methane pyrolysis into high-quality, graphitized carbon fibers. These fibers can be used for a broad range of energy-related applications. The developed technology will be cost-effective, scalable, and built to accommodate various feedstocks and intermittent renewable energy sources.
CO-SYNTHESIS OF HYDROGEN AND HIGH-VALUE CARBON PRODUCTS FROM METHANE PYROLYSIS
Stanford University will design a process for catalytic pyrolysis of methane into high-value carbon nanotubes and hydrogen (H2) at the low cost goal of $1/kg at large scale, without any carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This project will synthesize high-performance, nano-controlled pyrolysis catalysts with structural features that enable efficient catalyst regeneration and separation of solid crystalline carbon. The carbon nanotubes can be used in a wide range of applications from batteries to carbon-fiber composites. Low-cost, CO2-free hydrogen can be used to decarbonize multiple large industries such as refinery and petrochemicals, ammonia production, steel, concrete, and transportation.
MOLTEN-SALT METHANE PYROLYSIS OPTIMIZATION THROUGH IN-SITU CARBON CHARACTERIZATION AND REACTOR DESIGN
C-Zero, LLC will develop a novel process for transforming methane into hydrogen and valorized carbon cement additive using high temperature liquids in a multi-phase pyrolysis reactor. Unlike current hydrogen generation technologies, C-Zero’s process will not directly coproduce carbon dioxide CO2 and does not require water as an input. If successful, this technology will allow C-Zero to significantly reduce the cost of hydrogen and accelerate large scale, domestic hydrogen production with low carbon footprint.