One such self-labelled climate tech company is Levidian, a UK-based clean energy specialist. The company uses its proprietary technology to break down methane into its constituent molecules: carbon and hydrogen. Labelled by Levidian as a rapid decarbonisation device, it can be integrated to any site that produces methane or uses natural gas.
This would enable companies to remove methane – a pollutant that has 86 times the global warming potential of CO2 – without generating excess CO2.
By docking with existing infrastructure, the technology – called LOOP – can strip carbon from gas flows, reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) potential of their natural gas by up to 40% if replaced by hydrogen. In addition to decarbonising gas streams, LOOP can produce graphene, a high performing nanomaterial that essentially locks in carbon.
The thinnest compound known to exist at just one atom thick, graphene was first isolated in 2004 by two researchers at the University of Manchester. Despite its apparently fragile dimensions, the material is 300 times stronger than steel and boasts a tensile strength of 150,000,000 psi.
But it’s not just its sheer strength and ability to withstand high pressure that makes it a modern wonder material. As a conductor it bests all other alternatives. At room temperature graphene’s conductivity is higher than any known material and – as a conductor of electricity – graphene moves electrons ten times faster than silicon while using less energy.
John Hartley, CEO of Levidian, explained to gasworld just how its pioneering technology works and how industries can benefit and meet their sustainable targets.
Having spent 20 years in the decarbonisation space, Hartley explained that Levidian’s modular LOOP technology differs from the traditional way that CO2 by-product is produced. “Often when carbon is a by-product of energy production either it’s in the form of CO2 or it’s in the form of something like carbon black,” he said.
“Our business is a little different in that graphene is actually a very valuable additive to a number of different materials.”
Graphene can be added to a range of different materials to make them last longer, be stronger, and do new things like increase conductivity of certain materials across a range of industries from biomedical, electronics, energy, and composites and coatings.
As a supreme and transparent conductor, graphene could replace fragile and expensive Indium-Tin Oxide (ITO), a material used in touch screens, light panels, and solar cells.
How does the process work?
“What happens is you bring the gas in – the CH4 molecule of methane – you run it through a nozzle and fire microwaves at it,” explained Hartley.
“That energises all of the molecules, so they split off of each other.”
A methane molecule is composed of a single carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. When these molecules are energised, the chemical bonds holding them together are broken, and the split-off hydrogen molecules are free to be extracted from the top of the reaction chamber.
The carbon collects in the form of high-quality graphene at the bottom of the chamber.
“We lock the carbon into a solid and that solid is then embedded into other things…”
Graphene is a single molecule layer of carbon materials arranged in a hexagonal structure. The resulting graphene material looks like small flakes that gather as a flake powder, ready to be utilised in other processes. The microwave process that breaks up the methane removes the need to use high temperatures and/or high pressures.
“Things like pyrolysis, processes which produce hydrogen, will use very high temperatures. We don’t do that. The way we achieve the splitting is through the nozzle and the microwave process.”
By locking in carbon and creating a tangible product, Hartley believes that the process avoids potential risks associated with conventional carbon capture methods, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
“I think very often that, with carbon capture, the carbon is in a carbon dioxide gas form and the real issue is: what do you do with it? You inject it into old oil and gas wells under the sea. Will that leak and eventually go back into the atmosphere?” said Hartley.
“Because we lock the carbon into a solid and that solid is then embedded into other things, that’s a very, very different form of capturing the carbon.”
“If you look holistically at that carbon reduction benefit, that piece is often as impactful, if not more than the hydrogen production.”
Which industries are best placed for LOOP adoption?
Originally starting out as a producer of graphene, Levidian has taken on the mantle of providing decarbonisation for heavy industry. Earlier this year, the company agreed to provide the UK’s National Grid with a LOOP device as part of research designed to boost the country’s ability to transport and use hydrogen.
Backed by Network Innovation funding, the deal enables the National Grid to use the graphene as a reinforcing material on the existing gas pipe network, increasing the amount of hydrogen that it can transport, in addition to making the pipeline less likely to crack.
By increasing the amount of hydrogen used across the country, the project could help reduce the combustion CO2 potential of the nation’s gas on a much larger scale. According to the National Grid, heating, cooking, and other industrial processes account for 37% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. By replacing natural gas with hydrogen, the only waste product from combustion is water vapour.
Responsible for 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions, the notoriously hard-to-abate cement industry could harness the advances made in the world of green graphene to decarbonise its manufacturing process and emissions released during construction.
As the main component of concrete, cement is a vital ingredient within the global construction market, a sector that is currently worth over $10 trillion and is set to grow by another $8 trillion by 2030.
Graphene could help decarbonise cement production, an industry responsible for 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
Contributing to 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, the construction industry is continuing to come under intense scrutiny. By enhancing the product with graphene and reducing the amount of cement that needs to be used by 5%, the effect of construction on global warming could be reduced by 21%.
Industry could double down on CO2 savings by injecting captured CO2 into concrete at the point when water and cement are being mixed in, strengthening the concrete and trapping the gas as calcium carbonate.
With rising energy costs leading to a steep increase in the price of steel, graphene-enhanced concrete could reduce the need for steel reinforcement in construction. Four times more water-resistant than existing concrete, it could also reduce the frequency of maintenance and rebuilding.
The main hurdles for expansion of green graphene and hydrogen technology centre around investment and scaling, two areas that Levidian has been focusing on over the past year. Earlier this year, the company signed a decarbonisation deal worth £700m in the UAE. The agreement will see Levidian supplying 500 of its proprietary LOOP50 systems to technology expert Zero Carbon Ventures as part of a project to bring cutting edge carbon-reducing technologies to the Middle East.
To further increase the scaling up and adoption of hydrogen across the country, Levidian became a member of Hydrogen UK, a trade association committed to the development and deployment of hydrogen solutions.
Read more: Green graphene pioneer joins Hydrogen UK
Commenting on its new membership, Hartley said, “We’re delighted to be working with Hydrogen UK to support the scaling up and commercialisation of hydrogen, which is critical to reducing our global carbon emissions.”
“By focusing on the carbon impact of hydrogen, rather than the specific technologies used to create it, Levidian believes the UK can unlock the massive potential of the hydrogen sector.”
Revealed in its Energy Security Strategy released earlier this year, the UK Government emphasised the importance of new technologies to double the ambition of reaching up to 10GW (gigawatts) of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.
By joining such initiatives and continuing to invest in the scaling up of hydrogen and green graphene production, Levidian is paving the way for global energy innovation.
“We have this waste gas, this methane that we have to decarbonise,” said Hartley. “We have the need to produce hydrogen in a really clean way and we can do that.”