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E67: Decarbonizing hydrogen and carbon black by splitting methane with Monolith Materials CEO, Rob Hanson
Episode 6727th May 2024 • The Keep Cool Podcast • Nick Van Osdol
00:00:00 00:43:31

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Description: Nick is joined by Rob Hanson, the CEO of Monolith, a company building methane pyrolysis plants to turn methane into hydrogen and carbon black, both of which are critical products for global industries and which are predominantly produced with significant emissions footprints today. Monolith’s process aims to decarbonize hydrogen and carbon black production while commercializing to scales of clean production not seen almost anywhere else in the world. Nick and Rob also discuss the duality of methane’s inherent economic value and its staggering cost to the environment, especially as a major global warming driver, as well as:

  • Technical ins and outs: Among other things, one of the pieces of technologies Monolith has built is one of the world’s largest plasma torches. Not sure what that means? Listen for more.
  • What it’s like working with the DOE’s Loan Programs Office: While the Loan Programs Office's risk appetite doesn’t suit itself to every type of project, Rob breaks down under what circumstances working with the LPO can be a powerful partnership to scale critical clean technologies.
  • Sustained will for the energy transition: Why ‘sustainability’ is about a lot more than just greenhouse gas emissions and other ‘green’ metrics.


00:03:08 - Methane's role across environmental and economic impact

00:04:11 - Rob's background and journey to Monolith

00:06:10 - The Role of DOE's Loan Programs Office 

00:09:03 - Deep dive into Monolith's technology and development

00:19:08 - Carbon Black production and usage

00:26:33 - Challenges and rigor required to work with the LPO

00:30:08 - Monolith's future production capacity and impact

00:33:32 - The importance of economic viability without green premiums

00:36:07 - Sustained will and what the energy transition holistically requires

00:38:33 - Perception of the energy transition in the Midwest

00:41:47 - Calls to action 

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Nick: Welcome to the Keep Cool Show, the podcast in which we cover how cutting-edge climate technologies connect to the world in which we live. I'm your host, Nick Van Osdahl.

Rob: And I come from this area, so I can say it like if you're too venture focused and you're just like, we need this done in six months and you're trying to jam a risk profile through what is, you know, low interest rate debt quickly, it's not going to happen. And I see some people complain about that and they're like, they move too slow. It's like, no, your risk is too high. That's the real problem. You've got to get the risk down. You've got to fit into their risk aperture. And once you do, they're a great counterpart. If you try to jam a really risky deal, like they're too smart. They're not going to let that get through.

Nick: Got it. Yeah, that is a narrative that I've seen out there a little bit of like, you know, this. This program has so much funding and the need is so critical across so many sectors, like we wish they would move faster, but it's a good counterpoint to think about the role that they play and how important it is to be as diligent as they are and as aligned with appropriate risk and scale as they are.

Rob: Yeah, I think that's it. I think people underestimate how hard it is to actually build a company like this across retiring all of those key risks that then position yourself to take, you know, billion dollar type debt facilities. And I think the shortage is not the desire or now capacity at the DOE. It's the, are there enough of those companies, projects that have actually done the work over many, many years to drive those risks to that level? And I think we're just starting to see the first ones, right? The first ones are coming through. And so the thing that I hope for the LPO is that, you know, in 10 and 20 and 30 years, they're still around and doing this diligent work.

Nick: Rob, welcome to the Keep Cool Podcast. It's great to have you. Yeah, thanks for having me. All right, to dive right in, for folks listening in that have maybe never heard of Monolith before, how would you explain the mission and the work to them in 60 to 90 seconds?

Rob: Yeah, so we wanted to have a big impact in the climate space, but we're real believers in a high energy, low emission future. I think COVID really proved the point that a low energy, low emission future is, it's a tough one. And we saw what life was like when, you know, you dramatically limit travel and you don't see your family as much. And, you know, there was a reduction in CO2 emissions during the COVID years, but it was like a few percent.

Nick: 5% or something like that.

Rob: Yeah, so that was kind of the vision. It's like the future needs to be high energy, but low emission. And how do you do that? And we looked at a lot of different technologies. We eventually came across this thing called methane pyrolysis, which means you take methane, one of the biggest energy resources on the planet, But instead of burning it to releasing the CO2 into the atmosphere, you heat it with electricity and you split it into its two components, solid carbon and hydrogen. And that way you get a lot of the energy left over in the hydrogen, you get a high value chemical in the solid carbon called carbon black, and you don't put any CO2 into the atmosphere.

Nick: Excellent. That makes a lot of sense and ties into lots of things that are big beats for me this year. I think, you know, methane is starting to be on more people's minds. From the climate and environmental perspective, obviously, it's a big concern when methane enters the atmosphere. It's a very powerful, potent driver of global warming. It drives it much more quickly and at a much higher rate pound for pound than carbon dioxide does. But as you also noted, even if it's kind of combusted on Earth, it still produces lots of CO2 emissions. So yeah, that's always an interesting story for me, is methane super integral to the world economic system, but we also need to find ways to use it in novel ways that mitigate those climactic impacts.

Rob: Yeah, that's kind of our story. Like we've got a business model where any molecule of methane that ends up in the atmosphere, like that's a huge loss. We want that ending up inside of our process where it can be converted into these high value energy and chemical products. And so it's been fun to kind of like build an aligned business where the objective of keeping, you know, methane out of the atmosphere, out of combustion processes, but instead into this one, kind of highly aligns with our vision of trying to mitigate climate change as best we can.

Nick: Yeah, makes sense. Before we dive deeper on the technology and the business, I'd be curious just to get a little color on, you know, how you landed in this role, what you've worked on in the past and what your journey to this point in time was.

tunity to come to the U.S. in:

Nick: Got it. Understood. The Tesla anecdote speaks to how difficult it can be to see the tea leaves at the early stage level. Yeah, who'd have guessed, right? Right. We all end up where we need to be one way or another. And one more thought that I had before, just to set the stage before we dive deeper on tech and the business again, is like, it's a really interesting time. to be talking about some of the dynamics that I'm sure will come up around sort of industrial decarbonization. I think we're recording this and it'll be a few weeks before it comes out, but last week, end of March, the DOE rolled out a lot of funding for novel, but also larger scale kind of commercial industrial decarbonization projects, which I think is a massive boon and a great thing. And this has often been a sector, whether it's steel, cement, aluminum, glass, heat, what have you, that folks have seen as sort of harder to abate or producing emissions that will be more difficult to manage. But it does also feel like we're at an inflection point where, you know, perhaps that narrative won't be quite as sticky or as true as folks once thought. There's a lot of proverbial energy now being put into thinking about how to accelerate decarbonization in all those sectors. And I know that that's relevant to the work that you all do. So let me just put that back to you and kind of get your vantage point on industrial decarbonization in 2024 in the U.S. and maybe even abroad.

Rob: We started with, as a society, the electricity sector and renewables, and then there's been quite a bit of focus on transportation. But there's a lot of emissions out there, and we live in the physical world still, and I think probably will for some time. And there's just a lot of emissions that occur making the things that drive our modern life, and that's outside of just transportation and electricity. And it all needs to be decarbonized. And it's been really fun, you know, as kind of a really pragmatic engineering type to see policy, public sentiment, start catching up to that reality that like, there's no silver bullets here. It's not just going to be one or two companies. We're probably going to need, I don't know, 500 or a thousand companies that are all working on a part of the energy transition. and that our path is not a few giant emissions mitigators, but instead hundreds of companies that maybe seem narrowly focused on their own, but collectively are solving all of these problems that lets us continue to have economic growth and society development, but without all the emissions.

of what you're focusing on in:

Rob: Sure. Yeah. So started the company with a co-founder around 12 years ago, 2012 vintage. We didn't invent the technology, this kind of concept of methane pyrolysis or splitting methane in the absence of oxygen. It goes all the way back to 1918. That was the first patent we could ever find on a process trying to do it. And there's actually an unbroken record in the patent and the literature for the last hundred years of groups working on this. So we kind of came across this and we were searching for something that was both economically viable, but also, you know, reducing emissions in hard to abate sectors. We came across this methane pyrolysis, looked at all the research and found two groups. One was a university in the south of France called Mines Paris Tech, and the other was a large engineering company in Norway called Kvarner and it's now Aker Solutions. And, you know, our view is they were the leaders of this methane pyrolysis technology. They've both been working on it for some decades and made a lot of progress, but it wasn't all the way commercial yet. And so we actually did kind of the classic entrepreneurship thing. We brought both of them together. We brought some private equity financing to it. And we took the first step of saying, we want to advance this methane pyrolysis technology, the next step in its evolution towards commercialization. And so we built a pilot scale facility in the San Francisco Bay Area, Redwood City, California, right on the San Francisco Bay. Nice.

Nick: Yeah, that's where I was born.

is plant ever. Came online in:

Nick: Nice. Yeah, that's news to me. I kind of would have imagined that there were some other commercial scale plants in the world already, but that shows some of my naivete. Let's dig into the process a tiny bit. I understand at the most basic level you take electricity to split CH4 into C and H, but what are some of the intricacies of that process and what was some of the innovation work that was required to move from that pilot to the commercial scale plant?

Rob: Yeah, a couple things. So methane doesn't really want to split. It's really happy with its four hydrogens around the carbon. And so it has, it's called a high enthalpy of formation, takes a lot of energy to split it. And you also have to do it at pretty high temperatures if you want the carbon to come out in the right form. So you need to get a lot of energy into a process at very high temperature. And for us, we use a plasma based system. So we actually have what's called a plasma torch, and that takes electricity, and it converts that electricity into a high temperature working fluid, mostly hydrogen. at very high temperatures. And we're, you know, in the high 90s percent efficiency of electricity and to heat in the working fluid out. So that took a ton of innovation. The largest plasma torch that had ever been built before we started was around eight megawatts. That was a NASA torch that I think they were using for like re-entry vehicle qualification testing. And our plasma torch is more than twice that size. And so largest one ever built, running on kind of novel gases, just a ton of innovation, you know, deep technology stack, not one thing, probably a hundred different things that all have to stack together for the thing to work. the first time we turned on this large torch, it ran for less than one second before failing. And now we can run it for hundreds of hours, you know, consistently. And so that's been a long arc of technology development. So that's kind of the heat input to the system was really hard. And then the second really hard part is, it's not that hard to split methane into carbon and hydrogen. In fact, if you you know, put methane in a sealed container, heat it up to very high temperatures, cool it back down, open it up, you'd have carbon and hydrogen. That's the thermodynamically nice part of this. It wants to split at these high temperatures, but it doesn't back react. So the problem is, is that for the economics to work on this, you need your carbon to have utility and value. And for us, that meant going after this target called carbon black, which is just pure carbon. But when you zoom in on it with like an electron microscope, it's got this very specific nanostructure. It looks like a bunch of grapes connected together, super small, 10, 20 nanometer spheres of carbon connected together. And it's that morphology that gives it its utility. And its utility comes as a pigment. It's in basically everything that's black, mascara to the keys on your keyboard. But then it also goes into rubber. And they discovered this around World War II, where if you put this kind of designer carbon nanoparticle called carbon black into a rubber matrix, it really changes the properties, makes it way stronger, more durable. And so the second hard part after getting the energy into the process is getting the carbon to come out as this high value carbon form called carbon block, because that's what creates the high value on the carbon side, which kind of turns the whole economic wheel of the company.

Nick: So if it were purely about making hydrogen, it sounds like perhaps the economics would not be as easy to pencil. It's about really utilizing the full, both sides of the potential output.

Rob: Yeah, it's like we want to use every part of the molecule. And so the thought of just making a low value carbon that you, you know, sequester, it just seems like a huge miss that you've lost 75% of the mass of what you started with. And then there's also an environmental advantage. So in that example, if you took the carbon out, buried it in the ground and sequestered it, you've made pretty clean hydrogen. However, it's much better to get that carbon out, and in our case, displace an existing product, which is carbon black, that has a huge footprint. A ton of carbon black produced today is three tons of CO2 emitted in its process. And so you not only clean up the hydrogen, you also clean up the carbon black space. And this is kind of like I was saying, there's all these little parts of our kind of materials that drive society, and they all have emissions, and carbon black is one of those. It's, I don't know, order of magnitude, maybe 100 million tons of CO2 per year emitted worldwide making carbon black. And so you'd say, well, does that really move the needle on a 40 gigaton emission? It's like, well, no, not on its own, but, you know, someone's got to solve that problem.

Nick: Yeah, someone's got to do it.

Rob: And maybe there'll be a few hundred companies that solve these type of problems across industry. And that's what the solution is going to look like to climate change, in my opinion.

Nick: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me and that attracts with the way that I often think about it. It's also, you know, in preparation for this, I had to remind myself that carbon black, black carbon, not the same thing. Some of the really environmental and climate science focused folks listening in would probably know that black carbon is its own environmental challenge. And, you know, I guess maybe this is reductive, but you can kind of think of it as soot, but that's something different.

Rob: It's a great, I'm glad you brought it up because a lot of people don't appreciate this part of it. And, you know, Google will switch the words when you search them in the search engine and you'll get a bunch of black carbon results. You know, black carbon is like the soot that comes out of a, you know, diesel engine on the road or on the sea. And, you know, it's also a form of carbon, but it's got a bunch of volatiles on it, on the surface, because it's unreacted. And then it's, you know, out in the atmosphere, causing all types of, you know, chaos, particularly on the human and aquatic and other life perspective.

Nick: Right. And because I don't know as much about carbon black, you already kind of pointed to some examples, but who are sort of like the types of customers to whom you sell that? And just to dig a little bit deeper, it sounds like I'm sure some 90 plus percent of where they would normally be sourcing it from would come from a pretty emissions intensive process.

Rob: Yeah. So a roughly 25 to 30 percent of every tire on the planet is carbon black. So a tire is kind of three big parts. It's natural rubber, it's synthetic rubber, and it's carbon black. And the carbon black is what kind of connects everything together and makes the tire have the mechanical properties that are needed. And that's true across you know, cars and electric cars and trucks and buses and bicycles and everything. And there's no real substitute. It's the best thing that you can put in a tire to make it perform the way that it needs to. So, you know, that's the Goodyear and Michelin and Continental and Bridgestones of the world, right? Right now they're buying from, there's maybe a dozen carbon black producing companies. fairly consolidated. They all use the same process, which is called the furnace process, and that's where they burn a heavy cut of oil, and about half of that oil leaves a CO2, there's a bunch of SOx and NOx associated with it, and the other half kind of cracks into this carbon black product. It's almost like a highly controlled formation reactor. It's a very efficient process. They've got it dialed in, but like I was saying, three tons of CO2 per ton of carbon produced big footprint. And it's just one of those things where if you want to roll on tires, you need carbon black, but it's got a footprint associated with it. And so we want to have both. We want to have, you know, great tires, but also a better atmosphere.

Nick: Yeah. And on the hydrogen side, obviously lots of different potential use cases for hydrogen. I think you can correct me if I'm wrong, but similar story to carbon black, something like 99% of hydrogen produced globally today has not insignificant emissions footprint associated with it. There's lots of different ways to produce hydrogen, all the colors of the rainbow that people speak to sometimes. But as you're scaling up ability to produce, Green hydrogen, who are some of the customer profiles where you think will be the first interested off takers of that? Or you might already have some I shouldn't necessarily say first.

Rob: Yeah, we've focused on the existing hydrogen market. And so it's something that often doesn't get talked about enough in my opinion is that there's an enormous existing hydrogen market. It's primarily two things. Number one is making ammonia, which is you know, keeping half of the planet alive through agricultural production. And then the other half is for refining fuels, both fossil and renewable fuels. So, you know, when you hear about renewable diesel, lots of hydrogen goes into the process of producing that fuel. And when you add up all that hydrogen for fertilizer and fuels, it's something like a hundred million tons per year are produced all through either reforming methane with steam or reforming coal with steam or other carbon products. and you get something like a gigaton of CO2. Right. So, you know, a billion tons of CO2 just in the production of hydrogen, not to do anything new, just to do the stuff that we already use it for. Right. So we're like, let's start there. Let's start cleaning up some of that. So our first project, part of the reason we're in the state of Nebraska is it's in the middle of the Corn Belt in the U.S. and that's a huge ammonia utilization region. And all that ammonia is produced with hydrogen that has been produced in the traditional process and has big emissions. And so we said, let's just start there. Guaranteed offtake. The hydrogen is going to move through NH3 ultimately. We don't have to wait on the kind of chicken and egg of, you know, product versus demand. And we can have just as much impact on climate by swapping out those tons with clean tons.

Nick: Yeah, I think it's a really good reminder that as we talk about all the potential uses of green hydrogen in the future for things like industrial decarbonization that we've explored and touched on, it's going to be additional to what is already a substantial market. And so it'd be one thing to try to decarbonize the existing hydrogen market, it's another to do that and grow it. And we see that across all kinds of different challenges in energy transition work.

Rob: And I think now with the PTC, right, which is the production tax credit that's part of the IRA, 45B for hydrogen, you know, the PTC, I think got it right. It's production, it's agnostic to the end use of the hydrogen. You have to use it. You can't, you know, flare it or something. But if you use it in a valorized product, then you can get the tax credit. And I thought that was smart that they didn't say like, let's try and decarbonize this part of the transportation ecosystem by giving a credit to that for hydrogen. So they're like, if you can produce it with full lifecycle carbon emissions below certain thresholds, and that hydrogen gets used in a useful product, like you get the tax credit.

hat was announced as early as:

Rob: On the plant front, I mentioned this lab in France where we started the company. They had kind of the lab scale reactor that over these two steps, first the California plant and then the first commercial plant in Nebraska, we've scaled up the technology 600x. And so we have now in Nebraska, we have one full scale commercial unit running, producing product, selling back to customer kind of full chain. What we're doing now is we're working on an expansion, which would be adding 12 more of those identical units. So no more scale up of the core technology. It's kind of like that risk is behind us. It's now more execution, EPC, commercial supply chain. And so 12 more reactors at the same site with the same infrastructure going largely to the same customers. And that's a big project, you know, it's measured in billions of dollars. Absolutely. And the department of energy actually across two administrations now have, have supported this project and they have done a $1,036,000,000 conditional commitment. We're now driving hard to get that closed. And you know, the plan is to get a, get the loan closed, get the equity alongside it and put a shovel in the ground with our partner Hewitt, who's doing the EPC on it later this year. So it's quite imminent. Yeah.

Nick: And can you speak a little bit to just sort of what the process of working with the LPO has been like? Because that's not something that I have a ton of insight into from the operator's perspective.

Rob: Yes, I kind of heard of this LPO thing when I was in that first wave of climate tech, right? And they were they were active. They did the Tesla deal for their first factory, a bunch of renewable stuff, a couple of missteps. And so I always kind of like liked it. I'm like, you know, this makes sense for this stage. It wasn't the stage where we were still doing a big tech scale up, but it's like the tech has proven we've got customers. We're talking about deploying capital, but we're probably a little too early still for, you know, just traditional project finance. And so what's it been like? I mean, super rigorous. They definitely deploy the full mass of the, you know, thousands of engineers and scientists and financial professionals. They've been very patient. You know, the length of our project has not really been because of them. It's because we've been developing, you know, the scale technology. So we were ahead of the process or ahead of the technology with the process. And now the technology has caught up and de-risked because they're just like, we're not taking technology risk. And they put the conditions to make sure that the tech risk was all done. And now that's been retired. And so they've been very patient throughout that process. You know, classic case, we thought it was going to take us 18 months, it took us more like 36 months to get all of the technology fully ironed out. But yeah, very smart, very diligent, very patient. And so it's been good. I mean, And I come from this area, so I can say it like if you're too venture focused and you're just like, we need this done in six months and you're trying to jam a risk profile through what is, you know, low interest rate debt quickly, it's not going to happen. And I see some people complain about that and they're like, they move too slow. It's like, no, your risk is too high. That's the real problem. You've got to get the risk down. You've got to fit into their risk aperture. And once you do, they're a great counterpart. If you try and jam a really risky deal, like they're too smart, they're not going to let that get through.

Nick: Got it. Yeah. That is a narrative that I've seen out there a little bit of like, you know, this, this program has so much funding and the need is so critical across so many sectors. Like we wish they would move faster, but it's a good counterpoint to think about the role that they play and how important it is to be as diligent as they are and as aligned with appropriate risk and scale as they are.

Rob: Yeah, I think that's it. I think people underestimate how hard it is to actually build a company like this across retiring all of those key risks that then position yourself to take, you know, billion dollar type debt facilities. And I think the shortage is not the desire or now capacity at the DOE. It's the, are there enough of those companies projects that have actually done the work over many, many years to drive those risks to that level? And I think we're just starting to see the first ones, right? The first ones are coming through. And so the thing that I hope for the LPO is that, you know, in 10 and 20 and 30 years, they're still around and doing this diligent work, because that's what it's going to take to really get enough projects and companies to the risk profile where this large capital at scale, but that needs to be at quite low risk positions can deploy.

Nick: Yeah, and I'm hopeful that we look back at this present time frame as sort of an inflection point because there are a lot of really unique, interesting conditional loans that are in the process of advancing in the same way that yours is. And so ideally, 10 years from now, we're like, okay, look, this stuff happened, it came to fruition, and we learned a massive amount from those projects, and those are now replicable, the rest of the world is paying attention, et cetera, et cetera.

Rob: I think Tesla is the example from the first wave, right? Tesla wouldn't probably exist today were it not for the LPO's financing of their pneumo plant. And, you know, that was the inflection point. They get that first kind of billion dollar scale facility up and running. And like the rest is history. And so that's the hope is you have 10 or 20 years from now, you've got, you know, five or 10 Tesla scale companies and maybe, you know, 50 or a hundred of those smaller, but still really impactful mitigating tends to, you know, a hundred million tons of CO2 per year each. Yeah.

Nick: A hundred percent. And to speak to the scale of model this plant, I'm curious, you know, upon successful kind of completion of all the work that's happening right now in the addition of these 12 units, what type of green hydrogen production capacity are we talking?

Rob: Yeah, so it's about 60,000 tons of hydrogen per year, which will convert onsite. So part of the project is also building the ammonia facility to convert the hydrogen to ammonia onsite. And so that works out to around 300,000 tons of ammonia per year. To put that into kind of context, the U.S. Corn Belt currently imports somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million tons of ammonia per year. That's coming down from Canada, up from the U.S. Gulf Coast. Some of those tons come from overseas to the Gulf Coast first. And so it's really just pushing back on imports in the region, but in a meaningful way, you know, kind of 20% of that imported ammonia will now push back out and be replaced. And I think that makes sense. And then on the carbon side, it's around 180,000 tons per year of carbon produced. And then finally, when you do the kind of full life cycle across all of it, including all of the you know, scope one, two and three emissions, both products, compared to the business as usual case, it's roughly a million tons per year of greenhouse gas mitigation.

Nick: Got it. Understood. Yeah. I mean, that all strikes me as quite significant. I think, you know, I'm sure there are lots of green and clean hydrogen production facilities being built presently worldwide. But one of the largest ones in China, I think, produces about 20,000 tons of H2 annually. So 60,000 is pretty serious.

Rob: Yeah, it's I think bigger than any of the electrolysis projects. It's smaller than the like big mega you know, blue hydrogen projects where you're going to do carbon capture and often those are going to go to ammonia. So those will be, you know, a couple hundred thousand tons of hydrogen. But we really like our size. We think it's kind of that nice spot where you get the economies of scale. You can convert it to ammonia. You know, it's all going to be used within probably a few hundred miles of our plant. So you're not necessarily having to solve the full international logistics of getting it to other countries to be burned in boilers or something. So we like it. It's meaningful. It has an impact, but it's also kind of regionally usable.

Nick: It's a good distinction to come back to if there's a number of ways, obviously, to make hydrogen and there's a number of ways to make green hydrogen. I don't know if green is technically reserved for electrolysis specifically, but

Rob: Yeah, we've started just calling it clean. And that's where the IRA I think got it right. They're like, let's do numbers instead of colors and judge your hydrogen based on its carbon intensity and a full life cycle. And we've got a cool one there because eventually you just have to be colors. But like, we can also mix in biologically dry feedstocks. You can think of like renewable natural gas or biomethane. and that's got a fascinating carbon life cycle. If you think of a biomethane molecule, that used to be CO2 in the atmosphere, and then photosynthesis took it to, call it glucose, and then you take that C6H12O6 and forms into cellulose, whatever the plant is, but at the end, you anaerobically digest it, and the carbon goes to CH4, and then usually you burn that CH4 and put the CO2 back in the atmosphere, and you're like, okay, I've got a closed loop. CO2 started in the atmosphere, through the plant, back in the atmosphere. But if instead of burning the RNG at the end of its life, you pyrolyze it in ours, the carbon comes out as a solid. And so you've actually got a negative, when you look at the hydrogen, you have a negative carbon intensity hydrogen, because you've actually in the process of making that hydrogen, you've pulled carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And so it's this really cool, what do they call it? Biological energy carbon capture. Max or something like that. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So we're tooling up to be able to blend renewable feedstocks into our process and kind of pick where we want to be on that carbon intensity value chain, including going into the negative where you could buy a ton of hydrogen from us and that has carbon sequestration associated with it that could perhaps offset some of your other emissions. Very cool.

Nick: And to speak to price a little bit, is there still, and obviously this will change ideally as operations ramp up and the size grows, I imagine, but is there still sort of like a green premium at present associated with the cost of your hydrogen production? If so, I guess the questions are, you know, do you see that coming down significantly or have you already seen it come down significantly as operations grow? And then I'd also just be curious around customers' willingness to pay for something that is cleaner, even if it is associated with the greenium, if you will.

Rob: One of the fundamental kind of founding principles of Monolith was that we needed to have economics that worked without premiums. We just, that was really important because I think to truly get to scale, you need to have that. And we have over the course. And a big part of that is we start with a very affordable feedstock, you know, fortunately. in this country, methane is, you know, as cheap as it's been 50 years or something like that right now. I think when you do it on like a mass basis, it's like cheaper than bottled water, right? It's incredibly low cost. And so that's very helpful for economics. Like I said, it meant major technical challenges. It's like the hardest thing to make carbon blackout of, but we figured that out. And so what it means for us is, you know, we're cost competitive. at commodity prices. However, to go quickly, you know, getting recognition that we don't just bring the molecule, we also bring carbon abatement is really important. And it's very enabling for us to be able to build projects faster, build the next plant faster yet. And so we're absolutely looking for and achieving the value for that kind of second part of our offering, which is the molecule plus the carbon abatement that it brings to the organization. And both of these, right, and the carbon black is going to the auto sector. So they all have, you know, strong commitments all the way up to the auto OEMs around decarbonization. And then in the fertilizer, it's going to the food as well as fuel because most ammonia goes to grow corn, that corn either goes to make ethanol or it goes to the food system. And both of those really care about the carbon intensity of the products. And so we're finding a lot of synergy where we're not out in the market demanding a green premium or else this thing doesn't work. It's more like, let's come up with a reasonable way that we all win because we're all trying to decarbonize. And it's not that we have some, you know, like gluttonous margin. It's that, oh, this lets us like get our plant built faster. It lets us access, you know, a broader pool of capital so that we can get this thing built and we can help you solve your problems.

core challenges, whether for:

Rob: Yeah, a lot of things keep me up at night. I think in the monolith context, it is maybe because I lived through the first climate tech kind of boom and bust is that I worry about the commitment that we collectively have as a society across all aspects, customers, finance, government, policy. public perception, like, are we really committed to solving this thing? Or are we going to, you know, veer off and say, oh, AI is pretty interesting. Let's talk about that. Climate was so, you know, 2023, 2024. So I worry about that. Just like the sustained will it's going to take for us as a society to rebuild our entire energy an infrastructure into one that still delivers what it needs to, but without the emissions? Like, do we really have that in us? Or are we gonna, you know, chase the next shiny object?

Nick: Yeah, I really like that. It's almost like sustainability is not just about the climate quotient, right? It's about, as you said, sustained will. Even at the most basic level of people that are working in this space, are you positioning yourself and taking sufficient care of yourself to want to work on this for 10 or 20 years?

Rob: Yeah, that's it. I mean, it's we say it's a marathon, not a sprint. But now we say it's a marathon of sprints. Just do sprint after sprint after sprint. But yeah, yeah. Is the will there? Is the will really there across society to make this happen? Yeah. So I worry about that a lot on the more micro side of monoliths. You know, it takes a lot to actually manufacture something 24-7, 365. And in our case, it goes into a life safety product. So people usually think seat belts are the most important safety feature on your car. But like, of course, it's your tires. It's the only thing that connects you to the road. And so we just have to be perfect. And, you know, I'm fortunate to have come from the nuclear industry where that's also the requirement. And we have, I'd say, a lot of people of that mindset who come from industries that you have to be perfect. But it's hard. It's just hard to build that, like, manufacturing the quality systems to always be perfect. And, you know, so I just worry about, like, we're building that. We'll never let a molecule get out of our facility that's not perfect, but it's a hard slog on the micro side of just, like, day in, day out, making that happen.

Nick: I can imagine. I'm curious always for vantage points that are different than mine sitting here in Brooklyn and New York, when you're out in Nebraska, how do folks think about the energy transition and climate related issues out there? I think it's often a misperception that it's not front of mind for people that aren't in San Francisco or New York or Europe.

Rob: Yeah, it was like one of the best life experiences I've had was living, you know, in the Midwest and in Nebraska, my family for kind of five years and kids going to school there and all our friends, you know, being around us and I do think you get on the coast, you get this perception of, you know, the middle of the country, the south of the country. And it's like, of course, the perception is not reality. And there's all types of people everywhere. But I would say specifically about Nebraska, I mean, it's an agricultural state at its heart. And the only thing that humans have ever built that touches the atmosphere at scale is agriculture. And so like, they much more intuitively appreciate, you know, the atmosphere and kind of agriculture, plants, that whole photosynthetic loop, soils, water, aquifers, all of that. Like they really get it and really care about it at an intuitive, but generally less like activist and more pragmatic. But yeah, it was great. I mean, There's no doubt that huge parts of the country, including Nebraska, like they care a lot about it. And I think what's cool is they're also trying to solve it and maybe in a slightly different way, but there's some will there for sure. And I think if you can connect it, if you can connect, you know, the different parts of the country, different countries in the world and bring those various viewpoints together, we're going to be better for it.

Nick: And it's, as you pointed to, there's a wealth of knowledge and probably also a wealth of will out there. And it would be a drastic misstep to ignore that as we all think about how to make the myriad shifts that need to happen. Especially, we haven't talked about agriculture a ton, but that's home to its whole own host of decarbonization challenges and opportunities. And another one that doesn't always get a massive amount of attention.

Rob: Yeah, I think intelligence and work ethic and will it's it's normally distributed across every part of the country. And so the solutions for us to really solve this, all the solutions can't just come out of that, you know. few square miles in the Bay Area and lots will. And like, I love it. It's, I mean, I, I spent a good chunk of my life there, but if we can expand that to have this, you know, incubating and growing in all the parts of the country and then also globally, that's our best chance at, at actually solving this problem.

Nick: Yeah, love that. Rob, listen, it's been a pleasure. I would love to offer you the opportunity for some calls to action for folks listening in that are excited about the work, want to follow along, or maybe are even looking for their next role. Where are the right places for them to, I should say, also to work with you all directly? Where are the right places to look?

Rob: Yeah, number one, apply. You can go to our website. We're basically always hiring at a whole range, all the way from PhD chemists and physicists, engineers, we've got tons now in the commercial side, into operations, maintenance, just the whole range of jobs. And then for those of you who are, you know, a modelist might not be a fit, the biggest thing is work in the space. if you're really serious about doing something on climate, like find a way to change the arc of your career to work in that space. And there's always reasons, it's hard, I get it, you know, but find a way over time. And, you know, we need something like two or 3% of the world working on climate to actually deploy the capital and build the technologies that are going to be necessary. And there's, I think, nothing a person can do more than use their skills as well as learn new skills to apply to, you know, transitioning our energy infrastructure into a clean one.

Nick: Beautiful. Yeah. Couldn't agree more. All right. Well, I'm excited to follow along with the story as well. I'm sure we'll check in in six months or a year and excited to look back on our prognostication and update folks on the progress that you all have made.

Rob: Awesome. And come to Nebraska anytime we'll show you the plant. Would love to.





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