Energy & Environment

Rice Launches Climate Change Initiative With $10 Million Donation From Shell

The Carbon Hub will focus on developing technologies for creating clean, hydrogen fuel as well as materials that are made of carbon.

Rice University’s Carbon Hub aims to develop and improve technologies for creating materials made of carbon.

Rice University has launched a research initiative to help combat climate change, with an inaugural $10 million donation from Shell. 

Called Carbon Hub, the aim is to reduce carbon emissions by using oil and natural gas to create clean energy and materials. 

“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,” said Ajay Mehta, general manager for New Energies Research & Technology at Shell. “One way to do that is to kind of come up with cleaner-burning fuels.” 

Rather than burning hydrocarbons for fuel, a process that emits carbon dioxide, the researchers want to develop and improve technologies to split hydrocarbons into solid carbon and cleaner-burning hydrogen fuel. The aim is to use the leftover carbon to make materials for everyday things like buildings and clothes.

“The idea of splitting hydrocarbons into hydrogen and solid carbon isn’t new, but for every ton of hydrogen, you get three tons of solid carbon,” Carbon Hub director Matteo Pasquali said in a press release. “Finding a productive use for carbon at a very large scale is the key, and the novelty of the Carbon Hub is that we’re going to do something very useful with the carbon.”

Specifically, the team aims to create carbon materials that are lighter than metals, but that offer comparable strength, and that can be used to create everything from beams to panels and wiring for cars and buildings. 

Matteo Pasquali, director of Rice University’s Carbon Hub, with a spool of fiber made of pure carbon nanotubes.

We emit a lot of carbon dioxide when making materials that contain no carbon, or very little of it, so there’s this question of why do we use carbon and emit carbon dioxide to make materials, couldn’t we make the materials directly out of the carbon?” said Carbon Hub director Matteo Pasquali. “And the realization is if we can do this efficiently with technology that exists today at the small scale… we can displace a lot of the emissions of the industrial sector.”

Carbon Hub includes more than 70 researchers from universities, laboratories and research institutes across the U.S. In addition to Shell, the hub aims to partner with other energy companies.  

More information on the Carbon Hub is available, here

Matt Harab contributed to this story.

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