For most of our history, humans used carbon in a balanced way: for food, clothing, shelter, and energy (fire). The discovery that heat could be converted into mechanical energy brought us the industrial revolution and lifted billions of people out of poverty while unleashing an unimaginable period of prosperity. Yet, it also threw out of balance how we use carbon.
It is now clear that hydrocarbons can be extracted in vast excess of the ecosystem's ability to absorb their conversion into CO2 to generate energy.
Constraints on CO2 emissions are confronting us with multiple massive challenges: creating new sources of clean energy beyond solar and wind; decarbonizing the industrial sector; light-weighting and electrifying our air, land, and sea transportation systems; and the potential obliteration of our fossil hydrocarbon industry, which accounts for ~7% of the world economy.
This new paradigm of plentiful energy and the complex climate change conundrum offers a great opportunity to find a better use for hydrocarbons.
Can we make a more effective use of the carbon contained in oil and gas for making materials?
The concept of using hydrocarbons as a source of hydrogen and valuable carbon materials is a new one.
For this concept to be useful on a massive scale typical of energy systems, a productive use must be found for very large volumes of solid carbon by-product. The Carbon Hub will pursue applications that are adaptive to the range of available solid carbon grades, including applications that utilize the lowest-grade solid carbon as, for example, soil additives.
Why could large-scale conversion of hydrocarbons into hydrogen and solid carbon be fruitful now?
Recent research and technological advances have established a promising pathway for a class of high-grade solid carbon with all of the required steps being demonstrated at the lab scale. In particular, processing methods have been developed to create carbon materials with mechanical, thermal, and structural properties that overlap with the properties of metals.
Connecting with the hydrogen ecosystem
Rather than replicating the existing organizations and infrastructure that are addressing the hydrogen value and distribution chains, the Carbon Hub focuses on the carbon side of the puzzle and interfaces with the hydrogen-focused organizations so as to ensure that the two components of the hydrocarbon utilization nexus stay in sync.
The Carbon Hub is the focal point that will nucleate the discourse, R&D efforts, and policy-making across academia, industry, and non-profit (including governmental) organizations to identify highly efficient routes to valuable carbon materials and applications with the concurrent generation of hydrogen.