Home » Methane to Power EV Batteries, US Startup Innovates Clean Graphite

Methane to Power EV Batteries, US Startup Innovates Clean Graphite

Molten Industries Converts Methane into Graphite and Hydrogen

by Adenike Adeodun

Graphite is crucial for lithium-ion batteries powering electric cars and smartphones. While China leads in graphite production, there’s a push to develop a US supply chain. Oakland-based startup Molten Industries is working to build it using natural gas, which is abundant in the US.

Molten Industries has developed a technique to break methane into graphite and hydrogen. This effort is partly funded by a $25 million Series A financing round led by Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV).

“This intersects two important climate tech themes for us: scalable, cost-effective batteries and low-cost clean hydrogen,” said BEV Managing Director David Danielson. Big automotive companies need low-cost, reliable domestic graphite due to international supply chain issues. China controls about three-quarters of the world’s graphite anode supply chain, according to Benchmark data.

Higher freight costs and China’s temporary export restrictions have raised concerns about relying on a single source for graphite. Boosting domestic production is a priority for the Biden administration, which invoked the Defense Production Act in 2022 to fund the industry.

To create graphite, Molten uses pyrolysis, a process that heats methane until it breaks into carbon and hydrogen without CO2 emissions. Molten’s reactor uses resistive heating, which is more efficient than other methods like microwave or plasma-based heating.

Molten says its graphite will be cost-competitive with other sources and will appeal to customers seeking lower-emission synthetic graphite. The only potential emissions in Molten’s process are from producing the natural gas feedstock or the grid electricity powering the pyrolysis.

Molten didn’t originally focus on graphite. “We aimed to make the lowest-cost hydrogen with the most energy-efficient reactor,” said co-founder and CEO Kevin Bush. “We figured out we could make battery-grade graphite instead of just amorphous carbon soot.”

Molten has built a pilot reactor in Oakland and is constructing a full commercial-scale unit the size of a shipping container. This unit is expected to be operational next year, producing 500 kilograms of hydrogen and 1,500 kilograms of graphite daily.

The future demand for graphite remains uncertain. Other materials like silicon, lithium, and hard carbon may compete with graphite in battery anodes, potentially halving demand by 2035, according to BloombergNEF. The hydrogen market also faces challenges due to high production costs and policy uncertainty.

“It’s a common market story,” said Payal Kaur, a BloombergNEF hydrogen analyst. “Supply often exceeds demand.”


Source: Mining Weekly

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