From Hydrocarbon Feedstock to Recyclable Carbon-Based Automotive Bodies with Positive Hydrogen Output

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OPEN 2018
Houston, Texas
Project Term:
09/20/2019 - 12/29/2023

Critical Need:

By mass, natural gas (NG) is the most-extracted material on the planet. NG extraction releases large amounts of methane, NG’s main ingredient and a potent greenhouse gas, which can be burned for energy generation or converted into hydrogen (H2). Each year, steam methane reforming (SMR) of NG produces more than 10 million metric tons of H2, as well as 70-100 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). The H2 market is increasing at a combined annual growth rate of >6%, intensifying the need to generate H2 from abundant, domestic resources, with a low-to-zero CO2 footprint. Methane pyrolysis is an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly approach to produce emission-free H2 and carbon products—but to be commercially viable, these products must be useful for large-scale applications.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Rice University will develop a process to produce low-cost hydrogen at scale and recyclable, lightweight materials to replace metals in automotive applications. The team will convert NG into carbon nanotubes with concurrent production of H2, spin the nanotubes into fibers, and evaluate the fiber properties with the target of displacing metals. The proposed technology could significantly reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions associated with both H2 and metal production at scale. Furthermore, lightweight and low-cost carbon fibers could provide an alternative to metals in automotive applications, reducing vehicle weight, fuel consumption, and CO2 emissions.

Potential Impact:

Carbon nanotube fibers produced by the process proposed by Rice University could be incorporated into lightweight, recyclable, low-cost thermoplastic composites for automotive applications.


Converting natural gas directly into high-value materials will maintain U.S. technological leadership in high-performance materials manufacturing.


Lowering automotive fuel consumption will reduce CO2 emissions associated with transportation.


This technology will convert natural gas to low-cost, fuel-cell grade H2 and higher-value carbon materials that could enable large-scale H2 use in zero carbon energy generation and storage.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Jack Lewnard
Project Contact:
Prof. Matteo Pasquali
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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