NRC a catalyst for innovative hydrogen production

- Mississauga, Ontario, Ontario

In the race toward cutting worldwide carbon emissions to net‑zero by 2050, Canadian electrolyzer manufacturer Next Hydrogen and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) are blazing a new trail.

Low-emissions hydrogen is a critical contributor to the 2050 net‑zero scenario, particularly in giant sectors that are hard to decarbonize, such as transportation and heavy industry. With the NRC's support, Next Hydrogen's electrolyzer devices represent a sizeable step toward that future.

The devices produce hydrogen by using electrical energy to split water molecules, a process that does not release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. When powered with renewable electricity, the net benefits in terms of reducing CO2 emissions are even greater. The cell design architecture of these devices offers a low-cost alternative with superior energy efficiency.

Over the past 18 months, the NRC team at the advanced materials research facility in Mississauga, Ontario, has crafted various test versions of electrode catalysts for the electrolyzers. Under the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program, hosted by the NRC's Energy, Mining and Environment Research Centre, this project is showing great promise.

As Dr. Sharon Chen, NRC Research Officer and project lead, explains, catalysts help to lower kinetic barriers in the electrolyzer's water-splitting process. "Optimizing anodes and cathodes gives the catalyst greater stability and extends the life of the electrolyzer," she says. During the development process, NRC researchers sent samples of their catalysts to Next Hydrogen to test performance and to validate their effectiveness.

Rising to best-in-class

The most recent iteration of the company's electrolyzer, GEN2, has exceeded the U.S. Department of Energy's technical targets for energy efficiency while maintaining a considerably higher peak operating point. For the GEN3 cell development program, the NRC will continue working on the design, synthesis and characterization of advanced electrocatalysts.

"Using our in-house expertise and capabilities, we will help Next Hydrogen build on their GEN2 performance achievements to meet their GEN3 electrolyzer's far-reaching energy-efficiency objectives," says Dr. Chen. "This will also speed up the path to worldwide commercialization for them."

Dr. Jim Hinatsu, Next Hydrogen's Chief Product Officer and co-founder, points out that the NRC's ingenuity in developing these unique electrocatalysts is a critical factor in helping Next Hydrogen attain "best-in-class" status in energy efficiency. "The state-of-the-art equipment at the NRC's advanced materials research facility also gives this ongoing joint development project an edge."

In addition, Next Hydrogen is receiving advisory services and up to $750,000 in research and development funding from the NRC's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) supporting a project to develop and demonstrate its next-generation products.

Pushing forward to net‑zero

Today, 96% of hydrogen produced in the world is made from fossil fuels through processes that extract hydrogen from methane and other hydrocarbons. Such methods, collectively referred to as 'grey' hydrogen production, are associated with greenhouse gas emissions of up to 10 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of hydrogen produced.

By contrast, green hydrogen production, through the electrolysis of water using electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or hydroelectricity, is a carbon-free alternative. At the present time, however, green hydrogen accounts for only 4% of global hydrogen production, largely because it is a relatively expensive process. Next Hydrogen's economies of scale combined with its leading electrochemical cell performance show strong potential for overcoming this cost barrier.

"Our vision is to make widespread adoption of green hydrogen economical and feasible, which will have a significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide," says Dr. Hinatsu.

To that end, Next Hydrogen will be scaling up its technology to deliver commercial solutions of hundreds of megawatts for large industries. In addition to providing clients with a cost-efficient way of meeting net‑zero carbon goals, the company is working closely with the NRC to boost the product's energy efficiency. Next Hydrogen's innovative patented electrolyzer design allows customers to produce more hydrogen faster in low‑peak times, when electricity is least expensive. This approach is expected to drive cost reductions and enable green hydrogen to be more widely adopted.

"Next Hydrogen is focused on mitigating climate change," says Dr. Hinatsu. "Thanks in part to support from Canadian government funding partners and the NRC's expertise, our made-in-Canada solution can make a difference worldwide."

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