It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.

Please white-list or disable in your ad-blocking tool.

Thank you.


Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.


Startup scales up carbon nanotube membranes to make carbon-zero fuels for less than fossil fuels

page: 1

log in

+7 more 
posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 05:42 PM

Tests confirming that Mattershift's large-scale CNT membranes match the characteristics and performance of small prototype CNT membranes previously reported on in the scientific literature were published today in Science Advances. The paper was the result of a collaboration between Mattershift and researchers in the labs of Dr. Benny Freeman at The University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon at the University of Connecticut.


Three significant advances made this breakthrough possible. First, there has been a 100-fold reduction in the cost of carbon nanotubes in the last 10 years, with a corresponding increase in their quality. Second, is the growing understanding of how matter behaves in nano-confined environments like the interior of sub-nm CNTs, in which molecules move single file at high rates and act differently than they do in bulk fluids. And third, has been the increase in funding for tough tech startups, which enabled Mattershift to spend 5 years of intense R&D developing its technology.

"This technology gives us a level of control over the material world that we've never had before," said Mattershift Founder and CEO, Dr. Rob McGinnis. "We can choose which molecules can pass through our membranes and what happens to them when they do. For example, right now we're working to remove CO2 from the air and turn it into fuels. This has already been done using conventional technology, but it's been too expensive to be practical. Using our tech, I think we'll be able to produce carbon-zero gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels that are cheaper than fossil fuels.", March 9, 2018 - Startup scales up carbon nanotube membranes to make carbon-zero fuels for less than fossil fuels.

This story has not even been indexed onto the main page of! They have punked me before, so let's see what happens with this one.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) is a nanomaterial that has been in the labs being tested and added to this and that to see what happens. CNTs are essentially atomically thin, and length thin, carbon atoms arranged in the hexagonal pattern of graphene. Instead of being a sheet, they curl up into "carbon straws" of various diameters. They are usually a single layer (called a "wall") in which case they are SWCNT, for "single-walled." There are also DWCNTs ("double-walled"). And MWCNT (Multi). By keeping the diameter of the straw to certain sizes the scientists can control the properties of the CNTs.

Most of the problems facing nanomaterials is making it uniform at industrial quantities. The desirable properties of CNTs disappear when the quality starts to vary. If the length varies, if there are too many different number of walls mixed in, multiple diameters, etc., then the "magical qualities" disappear and you have a bunch of carbon powder on your hands. Remember this is all at the nanometer scale. This has been a huge stumbling block for graphene (scaling up with high quality). CNTs were supposed to be all the rage but they too face the scale up issue.

Mattershift has actually made the leap from lab to industrial-sized scale up!

There paper title says a lot: Large-scale polymeric carbon nanotube membranes with sub–1.27-nm pores (same source)

They are able to create a CNT membrane at large scale and at high quality in the below 1.27 nanometer size!

That is a great achievement in and of itself. But look at what they plan to do with their CNT membrane: take atmospheric carbon dioxide and convert it into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel!

The chemistry usually converts CO2 to carbon monoxide and the extra oxygen molecule. The extra O finds another and they pair up to O2. CO is highly reactive so add some precursor chemicals, like something with hydrogen and you get ethanol. Add other chemicals and you get the ones listed as Mattershift's goal. This can be done, right now, but usually involves platinum as a catalyst which makes it cost prohibitive as a reality.

This is carbon-zero because the CO2 is already there as a waste product from all the various forms of combustion powering our modern world. And natural respiration from all the life forms.

The scale up of CNTs is cool. But scrubbing CO2 from the air to make fuels even cheaper than fossil fuels?!

Oh h3ll yeah this is really cool news!

ATS, what say ye?

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 06:14 PM

The company says their breakthrough brings down the difficulty and cost of manufacturing the material, which should allow the technology to burst out of the confines of university labs.

"It should be possible to combine different types of our CNT membranes in a machine that does what molecular factories have long been predicted to do: to make anything we need from basic molecular building blocks," said McGinnis. "We're talking about printing matter from the air. Imagine having one of these devices with you on Mars. You could print food, fuels, building materials, and medicines from the atmosphere and soil or recycled parts without having to transport them from Earth."

A molecular factory is a long-predicted technology that, in theory, should be able to accomplish some of what the Replicator from "Star Trek" does, although not nearly as cleanly as on the show. Mattershift's approach is more about separating and combining molecules to form new raw materials, which is why working on creating fuels is a logical place to start. - A Real World 'Star Trek' Replicator Is Now Possible Thanks To New Breakthrough.

This was kind of mentioned in OP but leave it to the MSM to dumb it down enough so I don't have to!

The dream is creating "Feynman molecular factories" where molecules move things around to hand off to another set of machines that manipulate the molecule in question. The end product is a macro world useful product.

Star Trek replicators? M'okay.

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 06:24 PM
I'll bet $50 they are bought out and shut down before their tech can be unveiled.

or it won't work. But it sounds promising and amazing.

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 06:50 PM

Thats what I saw as THE idea this whole time.. Turning co2 from the air, back into fuel, but I couldnt imagine how to do that cheaply.

This is crazy.
edit on 9-3-2018 by Reverbs because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 07:00 PM
a reply to: network dude

They already have sales. They also do desalination membranes and have demoed in UAE.

I hope they survive and thrive.

a reply to: Reverbs

All the other methods involve a catalyst and heat (or electricity). Or a bunch of algae eating CO2 (which requires vats, and oxygen, etc). Which means a lot more energy is being used to do it that way. Which is why they want to tie it into wind and solar.

Here, they shove the molecule down the CNT hole. It looks like (because neither article said), an oxygen molecule is stripped off as it tries to wiggle through. In other words, no heat or electricity is applied. That is a huge cost savings there if that is true! I would like to find out more on their process but I cannot reach their website here at work.

Carbon is way cheaper than platinum!!

eta: They may be doing electricity separation.


There is video at the OP but it is Vimeo so could not imbed. It shows a contraption with the membrane leading to a condensing coil in a bucket of water. The output was placed on a glass plate and lit on fire.

PS - Work is over! Off to a barstool and will see you groovy folk on mobile in a few!
edit on 9-3-2018 by TEOTWAWKIAIFF because: clarification

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 07:47 PM

so a lot of the energy to make the molecules or atoms do what you want comes from themselves just moving and they separate as a physical property, not adding more energy to cause chemical changes.. Like the physical shape shaves off atoms?

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 08:24 PM
a reply to: Reverbs

In this particular case, the CO2 molecule is stable due to the chemical bonds. It is the breaking of one of the covalent bond (double) of oxygen that takes energy. Usually more than it’s worth. Add gold or platinum as an expensive catalyst and it is not worth doing.

Finding a method to do the hard part, cheaply, makes this a possibility for cheap repurposing CO2 to close the carbon cycle.

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 09:29 PM
Sorry this is NOT carbon-zero the true term is carbon neutral.

Carbon neutral is making a product with CO2 taken from the environment and not adding any of the stored CO2 like oil or coal.

Carbon zero means there is NO CO2 in the product output. there so called "carbon zero" gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels have carbon in them that is released when burned.

I smell a scam when i see them calling there output from this product carbon zero.
Why because engineers and scientists know the difference.

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 10:48 PM
a reply to: ANNED

I didn’t come up with the title!

But as far as the carbon cycle goes it is a correct statement.

Besides the nitpicking name, is this cool or what??

posted on Mar, 9 2018 @ 11:25 PM
You know what?

Their website is so lacking technical information that I am scared that this is vapor ware.

They want this to be real but that is not science.

posted on Mar, 10 2018 @ 10:28 AM

This requires more information to properly evaluate. It is possible that the energy used to deoxygenate CO2 is ambient heat from the environment. The problem I see is the mechanism of deoxygenation. If atomic oxygen is formed, it will soon functionalize the nanotube; essentially a slow burn. Further, making CO from CO2 is easy and to make fuel requires some reduced component. This is an uphill battle, thermodynamically.

The Three Laws of Thermodynamics for Poets

1. You can't get something for nothing

2. The best you can do is to break even

3. You can't even break even

The important thing about this technology is the desalination membrane. The CO2 chatter is just PR to get some attention.

posted on Mar, 10 2018 @ 12:15 PM
It is impossible it will never work.

posted on Mar, 10 2018 @ 05:19 PM


No, VERY interesting.

Mattershift, an NYC-based startup with alumni from MIT...

MIT produces some decent scientists, so yea, impressive.

...and Yale

I guess someone has to make the coffee.

I do like it when a startup tech company keeps one foot squarely on the ground (desalinization) and their heads in the clouds (energy production, matter replication). That foot square on the ground tends to ensure their survival, while reaching for the stars with other applications can sometimes lead to awesome results. I have high hopes for this, and I wish them all the success in the world.

I do see some issues with their more ambitious goals:
  • The tiny amount of carbon dioxide in the air makes just moving enough air through the converter a major chore. I used to have a figure for the volume of air it would take to extract enough carbon dioxide to produce a single gallon of gasoline (based on pure octane), but it will take a little while to find (or recalculate) that. I'll get back with you.
  • Carbon dioxide has a lower bonding energy than any of the hydrocarbon components of gasoline. That means energy will have to be put into the system in order to make the conversion. This is not a death-knell to the idea, but it is a stumbling block.
  • There is a lot (and I mean a heck of a lot!) of work left to do to develop any usable form of matter replication... but the idea itself may be sound.

All in all, this sounds like something to watch. Good find, OP!


posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 07:44 AM
a reply to: pteridine

It is spent energy.

Reusing it costs too much to do realistically. Except with this announcement. The fact that this scales up is what is important.

@ALL, MIT has had many great ideas go nowhere fast. It is called “the MIT curse”. But that is just MIT. These guys have a different partner... Harvard. And between the two, I hope that they get this going. Something has to happen fast. I hope that this is it.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 07:51 AM
a reply to: TheRedneck

Thank you!! Most talk in generals. Yes to science and application in the real world.

Yes, at 0.04% of atmospheric concentration this is a stretch. But what if this is placed at the source of CO2? Then it can make sense and money.

That is where it can make a difference.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 11:22 AM

originally posted by: TEOTWAWKIAIFF
a reply to: pteridine

It is spent energy.

Reusing it costs too much to do realistically. Except with this announcement. The fact that this scales up is what is important.

@ALL, MIT has had many great ideas go nowhere fast. It is called “the MIT curse”. But that is just MIT. These guys have a different partner... Harvard. And between the two, I hope that they get this going. Something has to happen fast. I hope that this is it.

Hubris usually bites Harvard. This announcement is just like many others; an attention getter that needs CO2 recycle to get the attention of the general public. The membrane is important but recycling CO2 is a waste of energy. CO2 is at the bottom of the energy hill and this will not really go anywhere. We have always had the capability to chemically reduce CO2 to hydrocarbons. Making CO is nothing spectacular. It is the reduction that is the show stopper. Hydrogen is the key. The cheapest way to make hydrogen is reforming methane with steam---guess what one of the products is. Electrolysis is a losing game as one gives away 30%, at least, through heat losses via IR drop across the cell. If you have the power for electrolysis, it is better just to use that power as is.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 12:20 PM

Oh, I'm familiar with the principles... not so much the specific quantum equations, but the idea behind them.

You bring up an idea that perfectly illustrates why I will not discount the possibilities here: yes, as we both apparently agree, 0.04% is simply too low a concentration to make conversion realistic... but air inside a building can be many times that simply due to the concentration of people and lack of air circulation. How about a unit that not only conditions the temperature, but removes excess CO2 as well. That would not only provide a secondary power source (fuel cell?) but would also keep the air from getting 'stuffy.'

So many possibilities... and MIT would do well to reach out to some of the other major science universities... UCLA, UAH, Georgia Tech, etc. I'm sure the Yale/Harvard grads can make enough coffee for them too.


posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 02:00 PM
It may not work, but then the EM Drive is being tested and it appears to violate certain laws as well. We shall see.

posted on Mar, 16 2018 @ 01:03 PM

“Removing CO2 from air using these membranes and catalytically reducing it to ethanol and other liquid transportation fuels might also be a possibility.”

Towards real-world applications

Mattershift also says that it is working on using these membranes to extract ethanol fuel from sources like corn, sugar cane and cellulosic fermentation broths in a way that will reduce fossil fuel use for such renewable fuels by as much as 90% – by replacing distillation with a technique called pervaporation.

“We are looking forward to finding out what this new class of membranes can do in such industrial gas and energy applications,” adds Freeman. “Our lab is a leader in these fields and having access to these commercial CNT membranes will hopefully lead to new real-world applications.”, March 16, 2018 - CNT membranes go industrial.

Oh, that is a good idea! Skipping the distillation step! Even if the scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere is not viable (although Carbon Engineering has a pilot plant in Canada that can capture ambient CO2, they concentrate it down into pellets by mixing with potassium carbonate. From there they can heat up the pellets to release the CO2 and re-use reactant. They have no where to put the CO2 they capture, right now, so release it back. Maybe these guys should meet up! The Carbon Engineering guy is from Harvard! lol), the "not using energy to make energy" would another huge leap towards a bit greener planet.

new topics

top topics


log in