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Matteo Pasquali

We can use carbon to decarbonize—and get hydrogen for free.

Rice University

Event Details:

Monday, October 9, 2023
4:30am - 5:30am PDT


(In Person) Y2E2 111

This event is open to:


We can use carbon to decarbonize—and get hydrogen for free.

Departments of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, 
Chemistry, Materials Science & NanoEngineering
The Carbon Hub; The Smalley-Curl Institute
Rice University

Constraints on CO2 emissions are confronting society with multiple massive challenges: creating new sources of clean energy beyond solar and wind; electrifying our transportation systems and using lighter weight materials; decarbonizing the industrial sector; and dealing with the economic consequences associated with shrinking the fossil hydrocarbon industry, which accounts for about 7% of the world economy.  At first blush, the solutions to these dilemmas appear to be at odds with one another. In this lecture, I will show that there may be a way forward that positively influences all of these aims: use carbon as material rather than as fuel.

It is increasingly clear that achieving a transition to sustainable energy requires a transition in materials. Continued use of metals poses particular problems because they are mined as oxides, often at low concentration and in fragile ecological areas; their conversion requires considerable energy and generates CO2 emissions; moreover, metals are inefficient because of their high density.  Using carbon materials offers an opportunity to eliminate CO2 emissions and build a sustainable, circular economy—yet, we cannot do this with carbon fibers because their production has even higher resource impact than metals .

After two decades of overpromising and underdelivering, carbon nanotubes can make neat macroscopic objects whose macroscale properties rival those of our major industrial metals (copper, aluminum, and steel).  CNTs can be made from natural gas and other light hydrocarbons and can be converted into macroscopic shapes via scalable room-temperature solution processing.  Because they are already competitive in terms of properties, macroscopic CNT materials could displace metals once they reach cost parity.  Because hydrogen is a byproduct of CNT synthesis, deploying CNTs at the scale of hundreds of MT/yr would provide a comparable amount of hydrogen that would be, essentially, free.  I will discuss the significant challenges that must be solved for this future to become reality.  Synthesis and processing of CNTs into materials must become one to two orders of magnitude more efficient—yet, progress is happening fast.  Moreover, new manufacturing and supply chains must be developed for CNT materials, which requires developing new high-value applications at the early stage, and redesigning manufacturing and architectures for existing applications based on conventional materials.

Matteo Pasquali is the A. J. Hartsook Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Chemistry, and Materials Science & NanoEngineering.  Since his appointment on the Rice University faculty in 2000, Pasquali has served in various capacities, including Chair of the Department of Chemistry, Master of Lovett College, and Senator at Rice University, Chief Scientific Advisor at Shell, and as Director of two startups he co-founded (DexMat and NanoLinea). Pasquali is an elected fellow of the AAAS and APS and has won numerous awards including the NSF CAREER, Goradia Innovation Grand Prize, Herschel Rich Invention Award, Schlack Prize for Man-Made fibers, and the Rice Presidential Mentoring Award. Pasquali has advised over 90 graduate students and postdocs, who are now in key positions in leading universities, industry, national laboratories, startups, and finance.  Pasquali and his students have co-authored over 230 scientific articles and over 30 patents and patent applications, which have been cited over 19,000 times. Pasquali's research has been funded by US government agencies, corporations, and private foundations. Pasquali holds a PhD from University of Minnesota and a MS from University of Bologna, both in Chemical Engineering.


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