Distributed Hydrogen Production Using Catalytic Methane Pyrolysis


Stanford University

Palo Alto Research Center



Hydrogen is currently a $122 billion industry with approximately 70 million tonnes produced annually, nearly all from large-scale steam methane reformers (SMRs) at a cost of about $1.50 per kg and generating about 10 kg of CO2 per kg of H2, amounting to about 700 million tonnes of global CO2 emissions annually. Growth in the hydrogen market is anticipated to exceed $200 billion of market value with corresponding size of 120 million tonne per annum by 2026, driven in large part by emerging markets in transportation, fuel cells, heating, steel production, stationary power generation, etc. Fuel cell applications of hydrogen require ultra-high purity hydrogen (>99.999%), but some of the other applications like injection in gas turbines or steel production can use hydrogen with lower purity. Methane pyrolysis provides a potential technology pathway to produce nearly carbon-free hydrogen (<3 kg CO2 per kg of H2) at reasonable costs. Thermal decomposition of methane (CH4 = C + 2H2) requires very high temperatures (>1,200C) and carbon-free heat/electricity for the endothermic decomposition reaction. If the decomposition temperatures can be lowered by using selective catalysts and carbon formed during the reaction can be used for some value, this pathway can be potentially used to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen below $1.50 per kg with low CO2 emissions.


Susteon is supporting a number of technology development projects in catalytic methane pyrolysis to produce H2 and a saleable carbon product. These projects include:

  • Develop advanced catalysts and a process design for methane pyrolysis into high-value carbon nanotubes and hydrogen at a low-cost goal of $1.50/kg at a large commercial scale with CO2 emissions less than 3 kg CO2 per kg of H2. This project led by Stanford University is synthesizing high-performance, nano-controlled pyrolysis catalysts with structural features that enable efficient catalyst regeneration and separation of solid crystalline carbon. The carbon nanotubes can be used in a wide range of applications from batteries to carbon-fiber composites.
  • Develop an advanced reactor using a molten metal mist to convert methane into hydrogen and solid carbon which can be subsequently used to produce high-value carbon fibers. This project is led by Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
  • Develop a process design to pyrolyze methane to produce hydrogen and SiC using Si metal as a catalyst. The SiC produced can be used for high-value applications.


Successful development of methane pyrolysis technologies will enable growth of emerging new applications of hydrogen to meet the overall net zero emissions goal at competitive costs. Hydrogen utilization in existing natural gas power plants could be a niche application of this technology.