LINCOLN, Neb.—With the disclosure earlier this year of its proprietary method for producing carbon black from natural gas rather than crude oil, Monolith Materials Inc. is seeing interest from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., an engineering arm of the Mitsubishi Group.
Mitsubishi said it will invest in Monolith to support Mitsubishi's commercial-scale, emissions-free hydrogen manufacturing technology. Monolith is the first U.S. manufacturer to produce "turquoise hydrogen," a process that uses 100-percent renewable energy sources.
The amount of Mitsubishi's investment was not disclosed.
"Successfully scaling Monolith's technology to serve a global marketplace will benefit from the kind of investment that we have from MHI," Rob Hanson, co-founder and CEO of Monolith Materials, said in a statement. "This relationship will be a model for evaluating future investment opportunities to make emissions-free hydrogen the standard around the world."
When Monolith Materials was started in 2012 by Hanson and Pete Johnson, its plans were audacious—to pioneer new, cleaner technology in the production of carbon black, and to do so in the U.S. after decades of seeing the rubber additive produced in Southeast Asia and China.
After eight years and hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development costs, the first few chapters of Monolith's goals are coming to fruition.
The company claims it has perfected novel technology that ultimately will produce the performance-enhancing carbon black from natural gas rather than petroleum or crude oil, one of the byproducts of which is hydrogen—viewed as the future for cleaner energy, Monolith said.
"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," Yoshihiro Shiraiwa, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, said in a news release. "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."
Monolith is set to make its first run of commoditized carbon black—a critical material in the automotive and industrial markets—using this more sustainable method. The 500,000-sq.-ft. facility is in the tiny village of Hallam, Neb., known as Olive Creek Phase I, and is the first carbon black plant to be built for scaled-up production in the U.S. in the last 50 years.
The facility is designed to produce 14,000 metric tons of carbon black, and in turn the cleaner energy source of hydrogen, annually, Monolith said.