A Bothell carbon-capture company is changing the way we pave roads

Aug 28, 2023, 3:45 PM | Updated: Aug 29, 2023, 10:04 am

carbon capture pave roads...

Road worker repaves road with steam, Encino Drive, Oak View, California. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A Bothell-based company, Modern Hydrogen, is on the leading edge of finding a cost-effective way to turn natural gas emissions into clean-burning hydrogen.

Modern Hydrogen said they have engineered a way to take carbon out of natural gas in order to create decarbonized gas, which releases significantly less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned.

Company co-founder Tony Pan explained removing the carbon from the fuel itself is a lot easier than trying to capture the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The captured carbon is also a lot more useful than the carbon dioxide, which is mainly just injected into the ground to be sequestered away.

Pan explained to KIRO Newsradio the process, which uses carbon capture technology, creates a black powder leftover called “carbon black.”

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Tire producers have been using carbon black for years, but Pan says it could be even more useful where the rubber meets the road. The neutral black powder is already being mixed into local roadways in Washington, Oregon and California.

“What we’re doing is putting sequestered carbon into the road, specifically, the asphalt on the road, we’ve taken carbon, the offending atom that contributes to global warming, when it gets burned, and pull that out of fossil fuels, specifically natural gas, and put that carbon into the asphalt on a driveway,” Pan said.

Pan said the carbon black can also make concrete stronger, meaning tougher roads and bridges, as well as stronger home foundations and industrial construction.

“You can use this to fill in potholes, you can use this to build in new roads and new driveways,” Pan explained. “This is also a material used in what’s called asphalt sealer. So when you want to protect them from damage after they’ve been subjected to weather and wear and tear, you can put this carbon into asphalt sealer and then basically refresh and refurbish roads. So you can use this carbon in a bunch of different places just in roads alone.”

Pan says carbon black makes asphalt and concrete about 10% more durable. He predicted the carbon capture industry would make a significant difference in greenhouse gas emissions in about a decade.

Natural gas is currently burned to create electricity and heat, as well as to help fuel industrial production, including paper, plastic, glass and processed food.

Pan predicts it will take a decade to get the tech in place, and he believes the technology his company and others have developed could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 20% each year.

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One of the first believers in the company is a well-known power player, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates.

“We founded a company in the greater Seattle area initially in Bellevue, and long story short, we spun off of an incubator here, and our tentpole, first investor was Bill Gates,” Pan said. “As we grew as a company, we’re an industrial company, right, we’re trying to make magical things work with hardware. So we needed industrial space that just ended up more in the greater suburban area of Seattle. And there’s a lot of great facilities and industrial buildings that we could take advantage of in Bothell.”

Pan said the federal Inflation Reduction Act is benefitting clean capture tech, and the industry has grown much more quickly in the past year. A statement on the White House website states the legislation is “the most significant action Congress has taken on clean energy and climate change in the nation’s history.”

“It’s a growing field, we are one of a few companies that do this, this relied on a new type of breakthrough called nothing pyrolysis, the ability to extract carbon out of natural gas in an efficient and cost-effective fashion. So we’re one of the leading companies in the space,” Pan said.

Diane Duthweiler is an editor at KIRO Newsradio.

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A Bothell carbon-capture company is changing the way we pave roads