How fossil fuels can help decarbonize the economy


“Each year, we pull more than 10 billion tons of carbon from the ground in the form of oil, coal, and natural gas,” Pasquali said. “That activity accounts for 7% of the global economy, and we need all possible sources of hydrogen. We can keep producing those hydrocarbons as long as we don’t burn them.”

“We can keep producing those hydrocarbons as long as we don’t burn them”

Matteo Pasquali, director of rice university’s carbon hub

According to the scientist, the technology already exists to both split hydrocarbons and make solid carbon materials for broad industry adoption. He has studied carbon nanotubes for almost two decades and pioneered methods for spinning the nanomaterials into sewable, threadlike fibers that conduct electricity as well as copper.

He argues that since the know-how is there, the issue right now is the efficient scalability of the manufacturing processes so that these new materials can compete with metals on price. 

“If high-performance carbon materials were plentiful enough to compete with metals in terms of price, market forces would take over and we could eliminate metals that today require 12% of our annual global energy budget to mine, process, and refine,” the expert said. 

In his and Mester’s view, the transition to a world where hydrocarbons are split rather than burned has the potential to generate robust growth in manufacturing jobs, most of which will stay at the local level where oil and gas are already established. 

“We’re in a position similar to solar energy a few decades ago: We know we can deliver performance, but manufacturing and scale have to improve to drive costs down,” Pasquali said. “We must get there faster than solar did.”

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