By Naama Barak
Hydrogen is fast becoming recognized as a renewable energy game changer that will help us to finally bid bye-bye to polluting fossil fuel. The trouble is, it’s agas – and that’s no easy thing to get from one place to another, or to store.
“Hydrogen is the lightest element in nature,” notes Baruch Halpert, the CEO of Israeli startup Electriq.
“You usually store it in very big, high-pressure gas cylinders, and then its energy density is very low, and there are also many safety issues. To turn hydrogen into the fuel of the 21st century, new ways of storing and releasing are being developed,” he says.
“There’s a way to store it in powder form, which we’ve substantially improved. We do it in a much more effective way that solves a lot of problems — a very elegant way for end consumers to store and use hydrogen.”
Electriq’s powder hydrogen, called KBH4, is inert and non-flammable. It is safe to transport, can be used off the grid, and is released into liquid form at the press of a button, much like a cup of coffee.
Like making espresso
“When you want an espresso, you make it on the spot using water, coffee beans and mechanical equipment,” Halpert notes.
Similarly, “We know how to create hydrogen on demand, in real time, by mixing powder and water in a catalytic process.”
Taking the coffee metaphor a step further, he says that the easy-release system that revolutionized the coffee world – the capsule – is not unlike the way that the hydrogen world can be revolutionized.
“Espresso machines have always been around, but you needed to mess around with the grinding, and add water and everything, and that’s why they were mostly used in coffee shops,” Halpert says.
“At the beginning of the 21st century people beganunderstanding that hydrogen is the story and that we need to accelerate the useof hydrogen solutions.”
“But once coffee capsules came into play, it turned making an espresso into something anyone can do. And this is what we’re doing for hydrogen regarding certain categories of end users.”
Electriq’s customers can be “anyone who uses a generator and will need to switch from diesel generators to ones based on green energy, and customers interested in backup power.”
Blue-and-white hydrogen pioneers
Electriq had its founding seed round in 2018 and hassince seen investment of approximately $20 million from Australian, Europeanand Israeli investors. It has 30 employees in Israel, as well as some in TheNetherlands and Australia.
“The R&D was very difficult, and so was identifying the market segment that we were aiming for,” Halpert admits. Having first aimed at the automotive industry, the company realized it wouldn’t be feasible.
“The more we delved into the technology and the existing solutions in the market, the more we realized that it would take us too much time to reach the automotive industry. So we turned to the off-the-grid and backup power market.”
“Staffing was also an issue, because there was no hydrogen industry in Israel, and around the world it was still very nascent. We’re pioneers. We take very talented chemistry people and turn them into hydrogen people,” he explains. “We call our team blue-and-white hydrogen pioneers.”
The company’s solutions are not yet on the market. Commercialization is expected in the next couple of years, Halpert notes.
“Our product now was two working prototypes. One of them has already been running for two years, and last September we finished the second one, which we’re using as an R&D/demo system for the Dutch market, and we’re in the process of planning and building our market product.”
In addition to courting potential clients, Electriq has a cooperation agreement with Amsterdam Port, where it will establish its first plant to create the powder, to be in operation by 2026.
“Our plan is to establish as many factories developing powder as possible around the world,” he says. “To deploy thousands of systems by the end of the decade and to become the standard regarding everything to do with hydrogen-based systems for the off-the-grid and backup power sectors.”
Halpert sees great enthusiasm in the market for hydrogen solutions and a willingness to adopt new technologies.
“At the beginning of the 21st century, there was a shift in the global market – people began understanding that hydrogen is the story and that if we really want to reach decarbonization results, we need to accelerate the use of hydrogen solutions.”