David (Ches) Upham

David (Ches) Upham
2016 Mellichamp Sustainability Fellow


Fossil resources have enormous chemical potential; however, their use is environmentally unsustainable because of the release of carbon dioxide. CO2-free production of hydrogen from natural gas is possible through methane pyrolysis; 

CH4(g) → 2H2(g) + C(s)            ∆H° = 75 kJ/mol        

However, the challenge in creating cost effective methane pyrolysis processes is in the practical recovery of the carbon.  Existing technology requires burning carbon deposited on solid catalysts, creating large amounts of carbon dioxide.  We propose to study liquid phase catalysts through which gaseous methane is bubbled and solid carbon forms.  The carbon formed is expected to be less dense than the liquid and float to the top, allowing for simple removal of solid carbon.  We will report the results of a liquid catalytic system for methane activation and pyrolysis that we anticipate will maintain stability for longer than a solid catalytic system, opening a new pathway for decarbonizing fossil fuels without CO2 emissions.

Advisors:  Eric McFarland and Horia Metiu