Picture: Dr. Daniel Teichmann

Storing and preserving hydrogen in liquid form without pressure is made possible by Dr. Daniel Teichmann's company. © Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Is Hydrogen the Crude Oil of a Renewable Energy Era?

Ensuring the safe storage, transport and efficient use of renewable energies on a large scale is one of the major challenges facing the advancement of current climate technologies. In addition to solar, wind and water power, the use of hydrogen, as a power source and even fuel alternative for hybrid vehicles, is being discussed - albeit not yet with as much public attention. The challenge however, is that hydrogen is extremely flammable. Currently, it's mainly stored as a gas under high pressure in large tanks and transported to the gas station network. This not only requires considerable safety measures, it's also very costly and not very suitable for everyday use. The Erlangen-based company Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies has found a solution to the challenge of handling hydrogen, in particular the difficulty of storing and handling it in its gaseous form. Originally founded in 2013 as a spin-off of the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg with the aim to implement their research results in commercial products and applications, the company currently employs 70 people.

Daniel, what exactly does Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies do?

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies has come up with the solution to the challenges associated with the logistics of hydrogen. We use an oil as a liquid hydrogen carrier material, which can hold huge amounts of hydrogen. The hydrogen is chemically bonded to the carrier fluid and can then be transported and stored under environmental conditions within the existing fuel infrastructure. The hydrogen carrier material LOHC (Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier) is extremely flame-resistant and non-explosive, even when loaded with hydrogen. This ensures that the hydrogen logistical process can be carried out safely and easily. LOHC can be stored and transported within the existing infrastructure for liquid fuels which vastly simplifies hydrogen logistics.

So how does that work in practice?

Once at the source point, the ideally green hydrogen gas from renewable sources is stored in the LOHC at our facilities and can then be transported by conventional fuel trucks, trains and ships and stored in pre-existing fuel tanks. If required, the hydrogen can be released from the LOHC oil at the end users' facilities. The carrier fluid isn't wasted at any point in the process and can be infused with hydrogen over and over again in an endless cycle. The oil also has a storage density of 57 kg of hydrogen per cubic meter of LOHC, making it superior to any other hydrogen storage technologies. To get an idea of the volume: A hydrogen car, (e.g. Hyundai Nexo) consumes about 1 kg of hydrogen per 100 kilometers.


What potential does your technology have and where do you want to take it?

We are sure that sustainably produced hydrogen will be an essential pillar of our energy supply system in the future and will have to be transported and managed in large quantities. Our technology makes hydrogen storage simple and safe, using the existing infrastructure for liquid fuels, which has been tried and tested for more than a hundred years. With LOHC, long-distance transport overseas is also made possible, making global trade of energy a reality, especially for regions with a particularly high potential for renewable energies like North Africa or Scandinavia. On the client side, LOHC significantly reduces the costs associated with hydrogen logistics due to the advantages mentioned above and can even supply large industrial processes as well as hydrogen-based mobility. Our goal is to use our technology to turn hydrogen into the crude oil of a renewable energy era.

What stage is Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies currently in its development, and which areas do you intend to focus on with the newly raised capital?

In the last few years, we successfully established and operated a number of demonstration projects in the field in collaboration with our customers and partners in the USA and Germany. This enabled us to verify that the technology works and gave us a lot of operational experience. Our next step is scaling and industrializing our technology. In recent months, we were able to secure a number of key partners including MAN Energy Solutions, Frames, Vopak and Covestro, who will support us in this process. Together with our partners we plan to build and operate the first large-scale plants with up to 12 tons of hydrogen a day. With that we can supply both industrial and mobility applications with the stored hydrogen. Overall, the goal is to make the leap from demonstration plants to large scale industrial projects within the next few years. Given the very high level of social interest in hydrogen and the great commitment of our partners and employees, I am confident that we will reach this goal. The funds we recently acquired will also contribute to this process.

What challenges were you faced with in particular?

As every founder knows, funding a young business isn't easy, especially in a country like Germany, where venture capital is generally uncommon. Sourcing capital and finding suitable investors is often one of the main tasks of every founder. Fortunately for us, we were able to win the British technology investor, AP-Ventures, back in 2014. They have accompanied us closely over the last five years. We're also particularly proud of the latest investment round in July of 2019, and the fact that these major companies have invested in Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies (Royal Vopak, Mitsubishi Corporation, Covestro AG and AP Ventures) is a huge confirmation of our work and efforts.

Another challenge was definitely the fact that it took quite a long time, especially in Europe, for hydrogen to gain the attention of the public, as well as in the political and economic sectors. Asia started focusing on hydrogen about 3 years earlier. But now Europe is starting to gain momentum and hardly a week passes without exciting news in this field.

One of the most gratifying experiences for an entrepreneur is getting the chance to witness the development of a company from its early stage as a start-up to a young, fully-fledged company. One year after founding, our staff number was still one, the founder, and the main focus was still the business plan and financing. Soon thereafter, we moved into our own space and a core team of 5 employees started working in what was essentially an empty factory building. Today, we have 70 employees and despite the recent expansion, we will soon outgrow our offices once more.

How connected are you in your region?

As a university start-up, we are of course first and foremost closely linked to the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Many of our excellent engineers are FAU graduates. This year we were able to gain the Forschungszentrum Jülich and consequently also the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energies as technology partners. We're also well connected with large companies in the region. At the beginning of 2019, we signed a cooperation agreement with Framatome (formerly Areva). Framatome is very interested in producing facilities for the LOHC hydrogen logistics on the basis of our technology and IP. The Erlangen/Nuremberg region plays a leading role in the field of hydrogen within Bavaria and also Germany. Just recently, the State of Bavaria established the Center of Hydrogen Bavaria in Nuremberg. Through this institution, which is managed by our co-founder Peter Wasserscheid, among others, future hydrogen related activities throughout Bavaria can be coordinated and planned. Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies is also one of the founding members of the Bavarian Hydrogen Alliance.

"Although technology and science are certainly the fundamental basis of a company, from there, it's very much about turning that knowledge into a product."

What should founders looking to set up a company as students or research assistants from within a university pay particular attention to?

The most important thing is to make the leap from a purely scientific approach to a commercial one, without losing sight of the continued development of the product. This change of focus from a researcher to a market and application-based approach is the most crucial, but also the most challenging. In retrospect, I also consider our decision at the time to leave the university environment in our early stage to be very important. Although technology and science are certainly the fundamental basis of a company, from there, it's very much about turning that knowledge into a product. That's why you have to leave the scientific perspective behind to a certain extent, and physical distance from a scientific environment definitely helps here. Equally as essential is having a good mix of skills among the staff. A team of engineers with a doctorate alone would certainly lack the practical relevance and proximity to the application. Ultimately, the challenge is to find a good balance between the extremes. Continuing to make use of the university's expertise even in the more mature stages of the company, while also remembering that technical development is not an end in itself, but rather contributes to your commercial success.

Was there any particular source of information that helped or supported you during the founding process?

At the beginning, we made great use of the offer provided by Businessplan Wettbewerb Nordbayern. The systematic approach to drawing up a business plan, the feedback from mentors and jurors and the publicity effect associated with the awards greatly helped us, especially in the early days. Having the awards on the shelf, the positive press coverage and the experience gained in pitching and presenting the concept certainly played their part in enabling us to successfully raise extensive funding.

[Translate to English:] Bild: Hydrogenious Team
© Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
[Translate to English:] Bild: Analyse der Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
© Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
[Translate to English:] Bild: Wasserstofffreisetzungsanlage der Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
© Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies