The primary objective of this project is to develop a novel process for production of high-performance carbon fibers using a carbon-saturated molten metal, where the carbon is derived from the pyrolysis of uneconomical wellhead natural gas.
Early phase efforts of the project will demonstrate the feasibility of growing a single carbon-fiber crystal, with fiber-aligned graphitic planes, from a carbon-saturated molten metal. This will be followed by demonstrating multi-fiber (100-fiber) crystal fiber production at pulldown rate of 1,000 mm/min and product mechanical properties suitable for general-purpose carbon fiber applications. In the final phase, the project will develop a laboratory-scale prototype capable of producing a single carbon-tow (comprising 1,000 fibers).
Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) — Palo Alto, CA 94304
University of California, Riverside — Riverside, CA 92521
Susteon, Inc. — Durham, NC 99502
Modular Chemical, Inc. — Anchorage, AK 99502
Etch, Inc. — Chevy Chase, MD 20815
The inherent compositional variability, intermittency, and distributed nature of flared natural gas poses a significant challenge to bringing it to market. Consequently, approximately 1% of annual gas production is flared or vented, an average of 645,000 Mcfd in 2017 — corresponding to a loss of nearly $1 billion in potential annual revenue.
Growing concerns over the environmental impact of natural gas flaring and venting has motivated efforts to utilize this gas for onsite electricity generation, modular natural gas liquids recovery, and small modular natural gas liquefaction. However, these approaches have struggled to be cost-effective at a size sufficiently small to address natural gas flares. A typical oil and gas site flaring rate is on the order of 10-1000 Mcfd and has a corresponding annual value of $10k to $1M — making economical solutions a significant challenge.
The fundamental problem with transporting natural gas to market is its low density, or more specifically its low value density ($/m3). The transportability of any product to market is determined by its value per unit volume. In order to monetize flared natural gas, it needs to be converted into a much higher value density product.
The proposed research represents a high-risk, potential high-reward solution with direct possible impacts in energy, the environment, and markets both upstream and downstream. Upstream, the proposed technology offers the potential to provide an economically attractive alternative to natural gas flaring — helping to mitigate substantial quantities of CO2 emissions. While downstream, the proposed solution could enable disruption of carbon fiber markets through the production of an ultra-low-cost carbon fiber that enables deeper penetration into large markets, such as the automotive sector. That type of carbon-fiber market penetration could, in turn, lead to a variety of other beneficial impacts such as increased vehicle fuel economy (due to reduced vehicular weight through use of carbon fiber) and thus reduced emissions.
Project initiated April 10, 2020.
Project activities initiated in April 2020 and an initial project kickoff meeting was held in May. The initial phase of the project is focused on design and specifications for the single-fiber crucible and reactor system, materials and system modeling, materials characterization of molten metal catalyst, crucible materials, and carbon fiber properties.