Monolith Materials ($360M for plasma pyrolysis of natural gas)

Monolith Materials uses methane pyrolysis technology to cleanly produce essential materials utilized by a wide variety of industries including hydrogen, ammonia, and carbon black. The company focuses on building the world’s leading renewable hydrogen and is the only producer of cost-effective, commercially viable carbon black made from natural gas.

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.

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Monolith Materials Technology

Monolith Materials has developed plasma pyrolysis of methane technology that converts natural gas into cost-effective hydrogen and carbon black on a commercial scale. This technology significantly reduces CO₂ emissions compared to the conventional SMR process when producing hydrogen.

The diagram below depicts the plasma pyrolysis reactor that converts natural gas into hydrogen and carbon black. The reactor has a plasma forming zone, a product forming zone, and a narrow throat connecting the two zones.

The plasma pyrolysis of methane reactor of Monolith Materials
The plasma pyrolysis of methane reactor of Monolith Materials.

The plasma forming zone has an entry port for plasma gas (such as hydrogen), plasma forming electrodes (typically made of copper, tungsten, graphite, molybdenum, silver etc.), and an exit port for formed plasma in fluid communication with the product forming zone. The throat has at least one injector of natural gas. The narrow throat is used not only to separate the two zones but also to accelerate the plasma gas, allowing for more intense mixing in a smaller region.

During operation, plasma gas, such as hydrogen, is injected into a plasma forming zone, where the plasma forming electrodes generate 3,000 ºC hydrogen plasma. The Plasma thus formed  then enters into the narrow throat region, resulting in increased velocity and turbulence. It is at this location that natural gas is introduced into the system. The well-mixed methane and plasma then enter into the product forming zone. The transfer of heat from hydrogen plasma to methane results in the pyrolysis of methane into hydrogen and carbon black without emitting carbon dioxide (CO₂).

CH₄(gas) → C(solid) + 2H₂(gas)

Carbon black and hydrogen are separated. A portion of hydrogen is returned to the plasma forming zone of the reactor.

Monolith Materials Products

Monolith Materials’s facility in Hallam, Nebraska (picture below) is capable of producing 14 kt/yr carbon black and 4.5 kt/yr hydrogen. The company plans to scale up a new plant that will produce 200 kt/yr/year carbon black, 60 kt/yr hydrogen, and 275 kt/yr ammonia.

Monolith Materials's facility in Hallam
Monolith Materials’s facility in Hallam.

Monolith Materials Funding

Monolith Materials has raised a total of $364.3M in funding over 9 rounds, including four Venture rounds, two Corporate rounds, one Series C round, and two Private Equity rounds. Their latest funding was raised on Jul 14, 2022 from a Private Equity round.

The funding types of Monolith Materials by 2023
The funding types of Monolith Materials.
The cumulative raised funding of Monolith Materials by 2023
The cumulative raised funding of Monolith Materials.

Monolith Materials Investors

Monolith Materials is funded by 7 investors, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Compressor Corporation, Azimuth Capital Management, SK, TPG Rise Climate Fund, NextEra Energy Resources, Decarbonization Partners, and SK Group. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Compressor Corporation and SK are the most recent investors.

The funding rounds by investors of Monolith Materials by 2023
The funding rounds by investors of Monolith Materials.

Monolith Materials Founder

Robert Hanson and William (Bill) Brady are Co-Founders.

Monolith Materials CEO

Robert Hanson is CEO.

Monolith Materials Board Member and Advisor

Robert Hanson, William (Bill) Brady, Robert (Bob) Kerrey, Charles Buaron, Wonsang Cho, Jonathan Garfinkel, Pieter Houlleberghs, John K. Rowan, and Jeff van Steenbergen are board members.

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