Carbon Nanotubes – Potential Game Changer In Push For Climate Innovation
John D. Siciliano
Posted April 30, 2021
No larger than the width of a human hair, advanced-technology carbon nanotubes have the potential to be a game-changer in efforts to meet the global climate challenge. From CO2 captured from natural gas and oil production, and other emitting sources, nanotubes may be the building blocks for the next generation of low-carbon materials and carbon-neutral technologies.
Nanotubes are an example of the kinds of technologies API’s new Climate Action Framework seeks to advance as a key element in reducing emissions while our industry meets the world’s growing demand for energy. From the framework:
“We will continue innovating to further reduce production-related emissions and to make delivery systems and consumer products that achieve environmental progress. We will build on our industry’s long history of developing technologies and solutions that advance modern life.”
Technologies can help reduce emissions resulting in meaningful climate progress. They can significantly shape the climate discussion and engagement with policymakers. API President and CEO Mike Sommers:
“As our industry accelerates efforts to advance groundbreaking technologies, reduce emissions and drive transparent and consistent climate reporting, we urge lawmakers to support market-based policies that foster innovation.”
For the industry’s part, nanotubes can be a new carbon-neutral commodity in the form of microscopic structures that can be used as the raw material for any number of applications, ranging from advanced electronics to construction materials, to new state-of-the-art ways to harness renewable electricity and new ways to drive next-generation transportation solutions. And the list keeps growing:
- Light-weight anti-ballistic material that can stop bullets.
- Advanced electricity storage applications that can usher in a new era for batteries.
- Lighter and more advanced solar cells.
- Medical implants that can act as tiny physicians within the human body.
- Advancements in medical research and treatments.
- New advancements in less expensive mobile technologies.
- Improvements in hydrogen fuel cell and carbon-neutral fuels.
In fact, research is underway to replace steel and other metals with carbon nanotubes, which experts say would dramatically reduce global CO2 emissions from the steel manufacturing process, while producing a superior and more versatile material. Researchers at Rice University are looking at ways to use natural gas to produce a nanotube-based steel alloy that could reduce CO2 emissions dramatically as higher emitting processes used to extract metal and ore are replaced with nanotube production.
Matteo Pasquali, Rice’s A.J. Hartsook Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering:
“With our new concept, we will convert directly natural gas into materials made of carbon nanotubes.”
Pasquali’s team has partnered with Shell on the project, citing the company’s production and processing expertise, in addition to “Shell’s progressive vision for an energy future in which we use hydrocarbons responsibly and limit carbon dioxide emissions.”
These state-of-the-art micro-structures are considered the next step in the development of a new form of abundant, superconducting materials that can be used to leap-frog the development of cleaner energy and energy storage devices. Such advancements also could advance the use of cleaner fuels such as hydrogen, which is also a part of the API climate framework.
Shell New Energies Research & Technology general manager Ajay Mehta:
"When you think about the energy system as a whole, then you really need to be thinking about what are some of the factors that actually contribute to the overall CO2 emissions and what are some of the means by which you could actually reduce that CO2 intensity. One way to do that is to kind of come up with cleaner-burning fuels.”
These are some of the reasons why Korean petrochemical giant LG Chem took the recent step of expanding its carbon nanotube production in Yeosu, making it the largest nanotube manufacturing facility in the world. The company sees growth in the carbon nanotube market surging in the next few years, moving from 5,000 tons in 2020 to 20,000 tons by 2024.
It is important to understand that the future will require both a means of reducing emissions and a way of recycling greenhouse gases into useful carbon-neutral commodities.
Moving forward, the industry believes that technologies and innovation should be evaluated based on their potential for widespread deployment at the lowest cost to society for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the industry will engage with policymakers to support innovation that will move low-carbon technology ahead.
About The Author
John Siciliano is a writer for API Global Industry Services’ Marketing and Communications Department. He joined API after 14 years as an energy and environment reporter and editor. Most recently, he was senior energy and environment writer for the Washington Examiner and the Daily on Energy newsletter. He began full-time reporting in Washington in 2001 as a foreign affairs correspondent, also covering national security and defense. His coverage of the Mideast and Saudi Arabia led him to become a full-time energy reporter. He earned a bachelors degree in psychology from Ohio Northern University, and he also holds a Masters of Science degree in education from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
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