"This is the beauty of our process when we pull apart methane," Cornille said. "You get carbon and hydrogen, and hydrogen can do many different things. We can sell it as hydrogen itself, and it is used in jet fuels and in the powering of hydrogen vehicles. It is also a nice building block, used in many different chemistries."
One of those uses for hydrogen is ammonia, which Monolith intends to produce in a zero-carbon emission manner in its second phase in the Heartland, known as Olive Creek Phase II.
According to Eric Thompson, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Bureau of Business Research, OCII will create 124 direct jobs, with a total employment impact (direct and indirect jobs) of 534 jobs between OCI and OCII. Total production area at OCII is projected to span 1.6 million-sq.-ft., or about 36.4 acres.
"Olive Creek Phase II is progressing extremely well," Cornille said. "At least 50 percent of the front-end engineering and design is complete and we are making very good progress."
Cornille said Monolith anticipates breaking ground on the second phase in the third quarter of this year, with completion set for the third quarter of 2023.
With three distinct, green avenues to take to market between carbon black, hydrogen and ammonia, Monolith is well-positioned—with sustainability at the fore in each case.
Combined, Monolith Materials' production of green hydrogen, emissions-free ammonia and carbon black are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 1 million metric tons per year compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
Getting noticed for going green
Cornille noted that Monolith—via its first run of 14,000 tons of clean carbon black and 4,500 tons of green hydrogen at OCI— is the largest producer of green hydrogen in the world, "leading the way not just in the U.S. but globally."
Typical production runs for carbon black are between 120,000 tons and 160,000 tons per year, and it is projected that Monolith will produce about 194,000 tons of carbon black between OCI (14,000 tons) and OCII (180,000 tons) once production reaches its full output in 2024.
And investors are taking notice.
Already a part of Monolith's portfolio are Warburg Pincus, a New York-based firm with deep knowledge of the energy and infrastructure markets; Azimuth Capital Management, based in Calgary, Alberta, with a focus on energy transition investment; Cornell Capital L.L.C., founded by the former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs' Merchant Banking division; and Imperative Ventures.
Most recently, Mitsubishi's Heavy Industrial Division has signed on, demonstrating interest in green hydrogen in October 2020.
"By solving the century-old problem of scaling methane pyrolysis to a commercial level, Monolith Materials has emerged as a leader in the manufacture of emissions-free hydrogen," said Yoshihiro Shiraiwa, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America. "While we're evaluating a number of clean-energy development options, Monolith offers great promise. We're excited to be the first in a new wave of strategic investors supporting the development of their technology."
The global interest is a feather in Monolith's cap, but it also can be a sustainability benefit for customers down the line, like Mitsubishi, who then can show that they are obtaining their additives or energy from a clean source—helping to meet regulations or thresholds put in place by governing countries.
"Successfully scaling Monolith's technology to serve a global marketplace will benefit from the kind of investment that we have from MHI," said Rob Hanson, co-founder (along with Pete Johnson) and CEO of Monolith Materials. "This relationship will be a model for evaluating future investment opportunities to make emissions-free hydrogen the standard around the world."
Cornille said that for every ton of hydrogen produced by traditional processes, about 11 tons of CO2 are produced. For every ton of carbon black produced by furnace (or flame) methods, about 2.3 tons of CO2 are produced.
"We produce essentially zero CO2," he said. "When we look at how much hydrogen will turn into ammonia, we will reduce greenhouse gases by 1.1 million tons of CO2—the equivalent of changing over 400,000 cars to EV technology on an annual basis."
Moreover, in the EV market, clean carbon black can be used in lithium-ion batteries and in plastics, hoses and belts, all of which can contribute to a lower CO2 footprint.
With the push toward decarbonization, Cornille said the only way to get there is through what he calls "the third pillar"—clean hydrogen.
"You need green hydrogen to close the gap. Since the announcement of OCII in October, taking green hydrogen and moving to ammonia, we have garnered a tremendous amount of interest in our technology, with people who want to partner one way or another," Cornille said.
Smack in the middle of the corn belt, clean ammonia production is essential as it is the main ingredient in fertilizer.
"Corn uses more anhydrous ammonia than any other plant, and the corn belt is in a deficit position, where the country has to import ammonia then pipe it to the corn belt," Cornille said. "We can take our high-value clean hydrogen and move to ammonia production right here."
At full production, Cornille estimates OCII will produce 275,000 tons of green ammonia per year.
"Customers are excited about the Monolith story, that they can do their part for their sustainability programs and do the right thing for the Earth," Cornille said. "They may come to us for clean carbon black, but when we tell them about our green hydrogen they realize Monolith is living its core value of environmental transformation."