It was very exciting to read about the progress Monolith Materials is making toward producing "green" carbon black and hydrogen. Being able to simply separate the carbon and hydrogen constituents of methane without wasting any feedstock seems almost too good to be true. After all, normal carbon black synthesis is only 20-30 percent efficient.
Yet, here in the U.S., such companies are the exception, not the rule, because there is still no national price on carbon. The cost of global warming—the cost of emitting CO2—is not factored in by the free market. If we had a national price on carbon, this cost would be factored in. Companies like Monolith would be able to compete on a level playing field, and our efforts to green the chemical industry would blossom.
Of course, carbon pricing legislation has to be properly designed. First, the increase in energy prices should not burden consumers or hurt the economy. Thus, the proceeds of the carbon tax must be returned to the taxpayers, for example as a dividend. Second, the tax must not hurt the competitiveness of domestic companies. A border adjustment on energy intensive goods could address this concern. Such an adjustment would impose a fee on imported goods, such as ammonia and carbon black, if the exporting country does not have a carbon price of its own. Actually, the European Union already is considering a border adjustment on U.S. goods, since it has a price on carbon, and the U.S. does not.
One bill that gets all of this done recently was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives: The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 2307). It does have 41 co-sponsors in the House. Sens. Coons (D-DE), Graham (R-SC), Romney (R-UT) and others support carbon pricing in some form, but overall support is patchy. Furthermore, the White House is pursuing a much more piecemeal approach to climate change, trying to pick winners and losers, instead of letting the free market get the job done.
Unless we speak up, common sense, effective market-based solutions like H.R. 2307 will not get through the U.S. Congress, will not become the law of the land, and companies like Monolith Materials will remain isolated cases, not the mainstream of the chemical industry.
Material Performance Research Engineer
Michelin, Greenville, S.C.
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