January 04, 2018

SoCalGas Works to Develop New Technology that Makes Carbon Fiber During Hydrogen Production


Process selected for development funding by U.S. Department of Energy


LOS ANGELES, Jan. 4, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) today announced it is partnering with a development team to advance a new process that converts natural gas to hydrogen, carbon fiber, and carbon nanotubes. The low-emission process, selected for funding by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), will create both hydrogen that can be used in fuel cell vehicles and industrial processes, as well as carbon fiber used in applications from medical devices and aerospace structures to building products. 

The goal of the partnership, led by C4-MCP, LLC (C4), a Santa Monica-based technology start-up, is to offset the hydrogen production expense with the sales of the carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes, reducing the hydrogen's net cost to under $2 per kilogram, thus helping make hydrogen fueled cars and trucks cost-competitive with conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles. In addition, this technology will virtually eliminate CO2 emissions from the methane-to-hydrogen process.  These efforts support FCTO's focus on early stage research and development to enable innovations to be demonstrated and to help guide further early stage research strategy.

The technology commercialization team includes SoCalGas, C4, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Richland, Washington, and West Virginia University (WVU).  As a result of the DOE selection, the team will negotiate a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) consisting of $375,000 in prior year DOE funding and a $375,000 co-funding contribution from C4 and SoCalGas. The CRADA will fund PNNL and WVU to develop the technology.

"This technology takes methane, turns it into a zero-emission automotive fuel—hydrogen—then uses the carbon captured in the process to make the strongest possible materials to be used in high-tech manufacturing," said Yuri Freedman, SoCalGas senior director of market development. "Further advances in development of this technology will bring about a unique and potentially revolutionary combination of environmental, manufacturing, and economic benefits."

"The research will lead to transformative advancement in science and engineering, in addressing not only climate change issues but also energy inefficiency issues in natural gas conversion to value-added products," said WVU Statler Chair Engineering Professor John Hu. "WVU will work closely with the team to carry out laboratory research in developing the catalyst and process for the conversion of natural gas to crystalline carbon and hydrogen."

"We are excited to study in more detail and further develop the catalytic process, understand the characteristics of the carbon that is produced, and to help figure out how to economically scale up the process for commercial implementation," said PNNL project manager Robert Dagle. "PNNL will also perform a techno-economic analysis for the process to be developed.  Since the precursor for making carbon fiber today is expensive, it is intriguing to think about starting with natural gas and consider the carbon product possibilities."

"We are very pleased to be working with SoCalGas, PNNL, WVU, and DOE to commercialize these exciting and leading-edge carbon-to-value technologies," said Jim McDermott executive chairman of C4-MCP.  "As the world strives to find new and innovative ways to simultaneously grow and lower CO2 emissions, working with SoCalGas and the national labs is both an honor and privilege." 

While carbon fiber and its uses are well-known, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are viewed as a big leap forward in materials science and engineering because they have tensile strength and stiffness many times that of carbon fiber.  The global CNT market was estimated at approximately $3.5 billion in 2016 and is expected to increase to $8.7 billion by 2022 with robust growth rates over 17 percent annually, according to experts at SoCalGas.

The partnership will develop an advanced methane reforming process based on a new catalyst used to make CNTs, recently discovered by Hu. The new catalyst system promotes "base growth" carbon nanotube formation rather than "tip growth," the current technology. Base growth formation enables the catalyst to regenerate while also creating a highly pure and crystalline carbon product.  In addition, the reaction conditions can be optimized to tune the diameter and length of the CNTs produced.

The new catalyst and technique will be further developed and evaluated at both West Virginia University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

About SoCalGas
Headquartered in Los Angeles, SoCalGas® is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the United States, providing clean, safe, affordable and reliable natural gas service to 21.7 million customers in Central and Southern California. Its service territory spans 22,000 square miles from Fresno to the Mexican border, reaching more than 550 communities through 5.9 million meters and 101,000 miles of pipeline. More than 90 percent of Southern California single-family home residents use natural gas for home heat and hot water. In addition, natural gas plays a key role in providing electricity to Californians—about 60 percent of electric power generated in the state comes from gas-fired power plants.  

SoCalGas has served communities in California for 150 years and is committed to being a leader in the region's clean energy future. The company has committed to spending $6 billion over the next five years to modernize and upgrade its gas infrastructure, while also reducing methane emissions. SoCalGas is working to accelerate the use of renewable natural gas, a carbon-neutral or carbon-negative fuel created by capturing and conditioning greenhouse gas emissions from farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. The company is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), a Fortune 500 energy services holding company based in San Diego. For more information visit socalgas.com/newsroom or connect with SoCalGas on Twitter (@SoCalGas), Instagram (@SoCalGas) and Facebook

About C4
Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, C4-MCP, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of C4 Composites (C4).  C4 is creating the carbon-to-value economy, transforming atmospheric CO2 into "carbon negative" and price competitive materials, chemicals and fuels.  In addition to early-stage commercialization, C4 is a developer of scaled industrial facilities that integrate individual carbon-to-value technologies into cohesive solutions. For more information contact Jim McDermott at (310) 383-2518 or [email protected].

About PNNL
Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,400 staff and has an annual budget of nearly $1 billion. It is managed and operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About WVU
West Virginia University, founded in 1867, has a long and rich history as a land-grant university.  In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, offering land grants of 30,000 acres of federally owned land to each state that agreed to establish a college to teach agriculture and the "mechanic arts" (engineering).

WVU ranks nationally for prestigious scholarships: 25 Rhodes Scholars, 22 Truman Scholars, 44 Goldwater Scholars, 2 George C. Marshall (British) Scholars, 5 Morris K. Udall Scholars, 5 USA Today All-USA College Academic First Team Members (and 11 academic team honorees), 22 Boren Scholars, 36 Gilman Scholars, 49 Fulbright Scholars, 3 Department of Homeland Security Scholars, 28 Critical Language Scholars, one Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholar, 5 National Institute of Standards and Technology Fellowships and 4 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

About Southern California Gas Co.: Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has been delivering clean, safe and reliable natural gas to its customers for more than 145 years. It is the nation's largest natural gas distribution utility, providing service to 21.6 million consumers connected through 5.9 million meters in more than 500 communities. The company's service territory encompasses approximately 20,000 square miles throughout central and Southern California, from Visalia to the Mexican border. SoCalGas is a regulated subsidiary of Sempra Energy (SRE), a Fortune 500 energy services holding company based in San Diego.


SOURCE Southern California Gas Company

Contact Info

Melissa Bailey, Office of Media and Public Information, (213) 244-2442, [email protected]