Southern California Gas Co. is participating in a project to advance a new process that converts natural gas to hydrogen, carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes. The initiative, led by Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup C4-MCP, LLC, 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 technology is intended to offset the hydrogen production expense with the sales of the carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes, reducing hydrogen's net cost to under $2 per kilogram. The reduced cost will help make hydrogen fueled cars and trucks cost-competitive with conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles. The scheme will also virtually eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the methane-to-hydrogen process.

The goal is to develop an advanced methane reforming process based on a new catalyst used to make carbon nanotubes. 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. Reaction conditions can be optimized to tune the diameter and length of the carbon nanotubes produced.

The R&D partnership also includes the U.S Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and West Virginia University.

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