The road toward zero carbon emissions is paved in steps — exactly the way Monolith Materials Inc., a major producer of the popular and vital performance additive carbon black, is undertaking its journey.
The company began in 2012, and in 2016 established a now-decommissioned pilot project in Redwood City, Calif., known as Monolith's "Seaport" plant, where Monolith perfected its patented methane pyrolysis method: using electricity to separate natural gas, rather than a furnace to separate petroleum or crude oil, to produce carbon black.
"That's the main difference," said Chris Cornille, chief commercial and supply chain officer for Monolith. "They have a flame and we don't."
Using data and methods gleaned from the Seaport facility, the company broke ground on the 500,000-square-foot Olive Creek Phase I in 2018 in Hallam, Neb., just outside Lincoln, where Monolith's headquarters reside.
With capacity for carbon black at 14,000 tons per year (considered a smaller, market-testing capacity), Monolith began its first production run of the filler last year for its target industries: tire; mechanical rubber goods (nontire); and specialty, nonrubber products.
But another commodity besides carbon black happened along the way.
Monolith's road toward sustainability bifurcated, with both paths heading toward the same zero-carbon emission destination. The company learned that while it could produce clean carbon black via electrical pyrolysis of natural gas, a second byproduct was clean hydrogen.
"This is the beauty of our process when we pull apart methane," Cornille said. "You get carbon and hydrogen, and hydrogen can do many different things. We can sell it as hydrogen itself, and it is used in jet fuels and in the powering of hydrogen vehicles. It is also a nice building block, used in many different chemistries."
One of those uses for hydrogen is ammonia, which Monolith intends to produce in a zero-carbon emission manner in its second phase in the Heartland, known as Olive Creek Phase II.
According to Eric Thompson, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Bureau of Business Research, OCII will create 124 direct jobs. The total production area at OCII is projected to span 1.6 million square feet, or about 36.4 acres.
"Olive Creek Phase II is progressing extremely well," Cornille said. "At least 50 percent of the front-end engineering and design is complete, and we are making very good progress."
Cornille said Monolith anticipates breaking ground on the second phase in the third quarter of this year, with completion set for the third quarter of 2023.
With three distinct, green avenues to take to market among carbon black, hydrogen and ammonia, Monolith is well positioned — with sustainability at the fore in each case.
Combined, Monolith Materials' production of green hydrogen, emissions-free ammonia and carbon black are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 1 million metric tons per year compared with traditional manufacturing methods.