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Back in Black - A Look at Monolith's 'Turquoise' Hydrogen and Carbon Black Plant in Nebraska

When it comes to blogs on the developing hydrogen sector, many subjects can seem quite foreign to the traditional hydrocarbons expert. We have found ourselves spending a considerable amount of time over the last few months slowly peeling back the layers on this sector in an effort to be prepared should hydrogen enter a new phase of importance in the energy industry. Today’s blog is likely a much more straightforward one for the typical hydrocarbon-focused reader. That’s because, in our view, Monolith Materials’ unique process for transforming natural gas into “turquoise” hydrogen while sequestering the carbon, is easier to wrap your head around. This is not just because of the company’s clear goals and process, but also because what it does is proving to be economically viable. That’s not always the case when we discuss hydrogen, so covering Monolith’s operations is a welcome break. Today, we detail a truly one-of-a-kind method of low-carbon hydrogen production.

Hydrogen can be produced in many ways and we have covered the basics so far in our hydrogen blog series. In Help, Part 2, we outlined how almost all the production of H2 in the U.S. is based on natural gas, through a process called steam methane reforming (SMR). Chief among the other methods is electrolysis, which we also covered in the same blog. Electrolysis has many advocates, given it requires only water and electricity to operate and doesn’t directly produce carbon emissions. If you are following our weekly Hydrogen Billboard, you will know that electrolysis projects are starting to proliferate around the world and, to a lesser extent, here in North America. The process we discuss today has some similarities to both SMR and electrolysis, so, without further ado, let’s take a look at Monolith Materials’ operations and technology.

Monolith Background and Olive Creek Phase I

It’s not often that we discuss an energy company operating in Nebraska that got its start in Palo Alto, CA — but that’s where the Monolith story began. Way back in 2013, the company began building its pilot plant in the San Francisco Bay area, utilizing technology acquired from Kvaerner that converts natural gas into hydrogen and carbon black. Wait, what is carbon black? More on that in a minute, but just know that by 2014, Monolith’s pilot facility in Seaport, CA, was on its way to a four-year demonstration period with the primary goal of producing industrial-grade solid carbon black and what it calls “turquoise” hydrogen. (See our original Help! blog for more on “blue” and “green” hydrogen.) Given the positive results from the California pilot facility, Monolith began building its first industrial-scale plant in Hallam, NE, in late 2018. It’s named Olive Creek 1, or OC1 for short.

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