C-Zero ($45M for thermal pyrolysis of natural gas to produce clean hydrogen)

C-Zero, an American cleantech startup founded in 2020, an American cleantech startup founded in 2020, develops a pyrolysis technology that utilizes catalytic molten metals to convert methane into hydrogen and separable carbon in an efficient manner. The technology makes the cost of hydrogen competitive with steam methane reforming (SMR) even without a CO₂ tax.

Challenges: hydrogen fuel

95% of the world's hydrogen (over 60 million tons) is currently produced through steam methane reforming (SMR).

Steam methane reforming is the most common method used for the production of hydrogen gas, which is an important feedstock for various industrial applications, including petroleum refining, chemical production, and energy production. However, SMR is also a significant source of carbon emissions, as it involves the use of fossil fuels, mainly natural gas, as a feedstock.

The basic process of SMR involves the reaction of natural gas (primarily methane) with steam at high temperatures and pressures in the presence of a catalyst to produce hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide (CO). The reaction can be expressed as follows:

CH₄ + H₂O ⇌ CO + 3H₂

The carbon monoxide produced in this reaction is then further reacted with steam in a second step, known as the water-gas shift reaction, to produce additional hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide:

CO + H₂O ⇌ CO₂ + H₂

The net result of these reactions is the production of hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide as the primary products. The carbon dioxide produced during the SMR process accounts for the majority of the carbon emissions associated with hydrogen production via this method.

The carbon emissions of SMR can be estimated using a variety of methods, including process simulation and life-cycle assessment. According to a study published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, the average carbon emissions associated with SMR for hydrogen production range from 9 to 12 kg of CO2 per kg of hydrogen produced, depending on the specific conditions of the process.

To reduce the carbon emissions associated with SMR, several strategies can be employed, including carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the use of renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power to produce the required energy for the process. CCS involves capturing the carbon dioxide produced during SMR and storing it underground, thereby preventing it from being released into the atmosphere. The use of renewable energy sources can help to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the SMR process by reducing the emissions associated with the production of electricity used in the process.

C-Zero Technology

C-Zero develops a thermal pyrolysis technology that utilizes catalytic molten metals to decarbonize the natural gas (methane) without emitting CO₂. With catalytic molten metals  (27% Ni–73% Bi alloy), methane converts into hydrogen and separable carbon. The solid carbon product can be readily handled and prevented from forming CO₂ in the atmosphere. This technology producing continuously separable carbon could make the cost of hydrogen competitive with SMR even without a CO₂ tax.

C-Zero hydrogen

The diagram below depicts the pyrolysis reactor for decarbonizing natural gas.

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