A clean energy company co-founded by a Saskatoon man nearly a decade ago is attracting attention for its carbon-free technology.
A Saskatoon man heading a clean energy company in the United States is using a carbon-free process to contribute to tire and fertilizer manufacturing — and it’s attracted attention from the U.S. government and a large tire manufacturer.
Monolith Materials, co-founded by Saskatoon-born and raised Rob Hanson, signed an agreement with The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to contribute a clean component to their tires. Monolith also received approval for a conditional loan of $1.04 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand their facilities.
Hanson told Garth Materie, host of CBC’s Afternoon Edition, how their use of methane pyrolysis — a fancy way to say they divide methane into hydrogen and solid carbon — is being used to make ammonia and something called carbon black.
Their technology to convert natural gas into the two components “creates nearly zero local emissions,” Monolith said in a press release.
He calls ammonia the “mother of all fertilizer,” which the company is making “for the farmers of the region to help increase the yields and grow the crops that feed and fuel the world.”
But it’s the carbon black that earned them a collaboration agreement and letter of intent from Goodyear, which said it would help advance their goal to use more sustainable materials.
Agreement with Goodyear
By splitting methane, “you’ve just created hydrogen without creating any CO2,” he said, explaining that solidifying the carbon keeps it from entering the atmosphere.
“If you do it just right you get the carbon out in a form called carbon black.”
Monolith recently completed a facility in Hallam, Nebraska, in 2020 and, as part of its agreement with Goodyear, is expected to provide the company with cleanly produced carbon black.
Carbon black is used in one-third of all tires around the world, Hanson said, and it’s a key ingredient in tires that increases durability. It composes about 15 to 20 per cent of a typical tire but is commonly produced by burning decant oil or coal tar.
Monolith said it’s production of carbon black is able to prevent about 2.3 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere for every ton of carbon black produced, compared with conventional methods.
It’s currently working on an expansion, scheduled to finish in 2025. When that’s done, it’s expected to produce 194,000 tonnes of cleanly-made carbon black annually, along with 275,000 tonnes of clean ammonia.
$1B loan from U.S. government
Monolith’s conditional loan from the U.S. Department of Energy is a part of an innovative energy loan program to help in the expansion.
“Advanced, clean production technology like Monolith’s are the types of impactful projects that support not just sustainability, but economic growth and clean energy jobs for the American people,” said Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in a press release.
Hanson said they plan to add 12 additional units to the Monolith plant in Nebraska and expect it will create another 260 jobs, on top of the 200 already available in the plant.