With the rising share of renewables in the energy mix, energy storage has become one of the key challenges to ensuring a reliable and clean power supply. For Dr. Enass Abo-Hamed, CEO of H2GO Power, hydrogen is an essential part of solving this challenge. In fact, it was her doctoral research on hydrogen storage at Cambridge University that prompted her to co-found H2GO Power five years ago. By enabling zero-emission energy storage, the company today aims not only to tackle the energy transition, but also to expand energy security and solve global problems like energy poverty - particularly in developing countries where 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity - while accelerating decarbonization efforts in developed countries. H2GO Power works toward these goals by storing hydrogen in a solid state, enabling safer energy storage over longer durations. Dr. Enass Abo-Hamed explains the ecological and industrial benefits of promising hydrogen applications.
Dr. Enass Abo-Hamed, CEO of H2GO Power
To get to a decarbonized future, we need to increase our induction rate for renewable energies, by integrating more wind and solar power into our grids. Since renewables are an intermittent energy source, they cannot provide a constant supply of power on their own. This is where energy storage comes into play. Batteries are currently the most common way to store power and balance grids, but this solution is inefficient for long-term storage and also expensive, doubling or even tripling capital expenditure. For that reason, hydrogen offers a compelling alternative, since it can offer a more cost-effective and efficient solution for seasonal and long-duration energy storage. By using batteries for short-term storage and hydrogen for long-term storage, we can make our grids more reliable and reach our decarbonization targets faster.
"The Sponge is a material that can take in hydrogen and lock it in for long-term storage."
The Sponge is one of the patents that started our company, but it is not our only technology, as we developed a full portfolio of patents in our five years of operation. Not only do we work on materials that make it possible to store hydrogen in a solid state (the Sponge, in a nutshell), we also work on engineering systems that can make process of storage and release more efficient and allow for the fast release of hydrogen. For example, we are working on a hydrogen storage system for drones that is more efficient and lighter than lithium-ion batteries, enabling longer flights and extended ranges using additive manufacturing techniques. Going back to the Hydrogen Sponge, storage materials are a crucial part of developing these innovative storage systems. In fact, the Sponge is a material that can take in hydrogen and lock it in for long-term storage. Only when heated does the Sponge change its structure and release the hydrogen. In this way, we are developing efficient components and smart engineering systems that can supply hydrogen based on demand. Our goal now is to establish the right cost structure and gain more control over the supply chain.
The Hydrogen Sponge, H2GO Power
Our plug-and-play energy unit is essentially a hydrogen battery: it takes in power, stores it in the form of hydrogen in a solid state, and then releases power back to users during peak demand. The main challenges associated with this project are the extended time frames needed to develop such hardware technologies – since assembling new engineering systems will always have an element of complexity – as well as the appetite for the investment community to take risks on building such technologies before they’ve achieved a revenue generating business, and, especially when the competition is investing primarily in software and apps, which are much easier to monetize in shorter time frames. Investment was a major challenge for us, because we need to get to market as fast as possible not only to meet demand, but also to justify our existence and help build the credibility we need to continue. For all these reasons, it took a long time for us to find the right partner. Later on down the line, regulating the integration of these systems is something that we will need to take into consideration in our design for implementation process.
The plug-and-play energy unit, H2GO Power
"We only target markets where we see that our technology can have a truly revolutionary social and environmental impact, by delivering round-the-clock, reliable power without the need to build new infrastructure."
Every country faces the same problem: the need to meet a growing demand for energy, while also reaching aggressive decarbonization targets. Though our technology has applications everywhere around the world, we focus our efforts on regions where market penetration makes the most sense for our development. For example, we only target markets where we see that our technology can have a truly revolutionary social and environmental impact, by delivering round-the-clock, reliable power without the need to build new infrastructure. Our initial go-to-market strategy centers on regions that are investing heavily in clean energy and see an answer in hydrogen for complimentary storage and as a decarbonization tool, such as China, California and many places in Europe. The main reason is that these areas offer the right support system that will make it easier for us to penetrate these markets. After we have positioned our company and established our presence, it will be easier to diffuse into different markets.
As we continue to develop our technology, we hope to launch a commercial pilot as our immediate next step. For our plug-and-play energy unit, we are aiming to start a pilot in the next few months. For our storage and power system for drones, we have already completed a successful flight pilot in partnership with Ballard. However, we will need to overcome several challenges along the way. First, financial challenges such as securing the right financial support that will allow us to grow without imposing too many constraints on products, customers or markets. The second challenge is to find the right partners with the appropriate support we need to achieve go-to-market plan in the anticipated time frame. Third, we need to find and attract the right talent with the skills needed to build these technologies.
"Hydrogen will give back to communities not only by delivering reliable clean power at a reasonable cost, but also by building a new industry and creating jobs, contributing to the economic health of communities."
Let’s start with the environmental impact: our solution can have a major impact on accelerating decarbonization, because at the point of use there are zero carbon emissions to the environment where people live. In this way, it offers a strong alternative to burning fossil fuels for power and releasing carbon. Hydrogen is a unique fuel because it does not contain carbon. When it is burned, instead of producing carbon, it produces water vapor that can be recycled as water. This encapsulates all the benefits offered by the elegant reaction involved in producing and consuming hydrogen.
In economic terms, wherever you have an opportunity to create a new industry – as we do with hydrogen – it will create new jobs and stimulate economic progress. In this way, hydrogen will give back to communities not only by delivering reliable clean power at a reasonable cost, but also by building a new industry and creating jobs, contributing to the economic health of communities.
In social terms, hydrogen also offers benefits to personal and community health. Reaching decarbonization goals faster means that communities will breathe cleaner air, which will have a positive impact on quality of life and productivity.
"We use hydrogen gas converted into a solid state that is perfectly safe, while we also work at pressures that are lower than those in ordinary coffee machines."
Hydrogen is not yet commonly used in cities or residences. People use cooking gas and batteries, but not hydrogen, even though it can fulfill the same demand for energy. Hydrogen is more common in industry, but that is far removed from most people’s experience, unless you happen to work in an industry that utilizes hydrogen. In fact, many people often think of the hydrogen bomb and the associated dangers, but it is actually not the same thing. However, it is also true that natural gas, batteries and diesel or gasoline are equally dangerous. Many things can go wrong when burning diesel fuel or gasoline in a combustion engine, but the number of cases where things actually do go wrong on the road remains very small cause they are engineered to be used in a safe way. It is the same with hydrogen. We use hydrogen gas converted into a solid state that is perfectly safe, while we also work at pressures that are lower than those in ordinary coffee machines. Even in the compressed form used to power hydrogen vehicles, it is designed to work without putting the safety of passengers or drivers at risk. In this respect, the safety aspect is carefully designed for users
"We need to position hydrogen appropriately as a reliable technical solution in the energy storage industry, since batteries have technical limitations that hydrogen can solve."
I use the example of batteries and what happens when batteries run out of power to explain the need for better storage solutions. I also tell them about how it felt when I went to Africa and noticed that many people do not have power, and when they do, it pollutes and causes children to die early. These stories connect with people and demonstrate the need for hydrogen as an alternative solution. On the investor side, a lack of understanding leads some people to question the hydrogen industry. In response, I encourage them to look at the numbers and see that hydrogen makes economic sense in the long term. Ultimately, we have two options for energy storage: battery or hydrogen. We have many challenges to solve in energy storage so we cannot write off either system. We need to position hydrogen appropriately as a reliable technical solution in the energy storage industry, since batteries have technical limitations that hydrogen can solve.
This is an important question, and you are right to note that there are a few women working in this industry. As a woman, I would certainly love to see other women in this field, especially since there is a lot of work that needs to be done. I think one of the reasons we do not see many women in hydrogen is that it’s a difficult industry to work in, both in terms of raising money and building highly technical products. Statistically, the pool of women with technical backgrounds is already very small. From there, we continue to lose more women as you move along the pipeline in the industry, which is why we have so few women in senior or executive positions in the energy industry and particularly in the hydrogen industry. Women bring an important perspective that is lacking in this and other industries, so I hope to see things improve in the coming years. In my personal experience, I have received tremendous support from men in the industry, including seniors and executives at hydrogen companies, which has been extremely helpful and empowering.
I’ve had many highlights, such as co-chairing the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this year in China, an opportunity that would not have come to me if I didn’t work hard to make a difference in this industry. Recently, I received an email from someone telling me that they want their daughter to grow up to be like me. I was incredibly proud to receive such a heart-warming message. I felt that there was something there I was doing right.