If innovation at its core is about solving problems, then new technology should aim to tackle as many problems as possible. This approach is manifested by H2-Industries, which has developed a technology that transforms organic waste into usable green hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Michael Stusch, the executive chairman and CEO of H2-Industries, tells fDi that there is strong appetite from governments to both improve their municipal waste management and scale up hydrogen production in their countries.
“Everybody wants to be the biggest hydrogen exporter now, after COP26,” he says, referring to the ‘breakthrough agenda’ agreed at last year’s UN climate conference in Glasgow, UK. This commitment was endorsed by 42 countries and aims to ensure affordable low-carbon hydrogen is globally available by 2030.
Against this backdrop, H2-Industries unveiled plans in April to develop a $1.4bn waste-to-hydrogen plant in Oman, which will be supported by 300 megawatts of solar power. The proposed facility will be built on a 200,000 square-metre coastal site and will initially convert one million tonnes of municipal solid waste each year.
Mr Stusch says H2-Industries is talking with more than 30 countries about their waste-to-hydrogen ambitions, including India and Australia, along with several across North and South America. The company has already announced plans for a facility in Egypt’s Suez Canal economic zone. In its first phase, the plant will process four million tonnes of organic waste and produce 300,000 tonnes of green hydrogen per year.
H2-Industries’s plants convert organic waste, including biodegradable plastic, agricultural waste and sewage sludge into green hydrogen and carbon monoxide through a thermolytic process. A secondary water–gas shift reaction transforms carbon monoxide and water into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This hydrogen can then be stored in liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC) and transported by sea.
“We can store hydrogen in LOHC, which is much safer [than using a pipeline], and we can transport it with existing infrastructure like supertankers, and ship it to any point in the world,” explains Mr Stusch.
H2 Industries’s decision to start in Oman and Egypt was due to readily available municipal waste and the countries’ proximity to sources of water, which is needed in large quantities for the process – the company plans to desalinate sea water on site.
“The most important issue for us is to get the waste secured,” says Mr Stusch, explaining that the waste needs to be secured for at least 35 years to meet each factory’s planned lifecycle. The sourcing of this waste will create “micro jobs”, according to Mr Stusch, helping to provide much needed employment opportunities in developing countries across the Middle East and Africa.
Chicken and egg problem
Despite strong demand for green hydrogen production, Mr Stusch says there are “chicken and egg problems”, which are slowing down the scaling-up pathway.
“Everybody needs hydrogen now, but it’s so early in the whole process that we have this chicken and egg problem,” he explains. “Countries want to see offtake agreements, and the offtakers want to know when the hydrogen is available.”
He says that H2 Industries is ready to deliver its first hydrogen by 2025, provided the financing is completed for its planned facilities in Egypt and Oman. Another challenge is that financial institutions are often risk averse with new technologies, demanding to see a pilot plant before they extend financing.
“Companies in engineering, procurement and construction, and in renewable energy are much more open as they understand the technology. Banks don’t understand this so much,” says Mr Stusch, who adds that he expects financiers to be much more open once the first plant is operational.
This article first appeared in the August/September 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.