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🌍 Making green energy easy #11
Cheaper green hydrogen and enhancing photosynthesis to boost yields
Welcome to the eleventh edition of the 'tings with impact newsletter 🌍
This week we are looking at 💨 Supercritical Solutions who have developed a method for hydrogen electrolysis that eliminates the need for expensive compressors, ⚡️ Ostrom who are making switching to 100% green energy easier, and 🌱 Glaia who have developed a patented nano-material that increases photosynthetic efficiency of crops to boost yields.
💨 Supercritical Solutions - Cheaper green hydrogen
Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. The simple nature of hydrogen means that it is rather unstable and is not freely found in nature, it is only produced by using other sources of energy and is thus considered an energy carrier. The great benefit of hydrogen’s simplicity is that it is a clean-burning fuel, when it is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, hydrogen only produces heat, electricity, and water vapour.
Today, hydrogen is mainly used for industrial applications like oil refining, ammonia production, methanol production, and steel production. And, although hydrogen burns cleanly, most hydrogen is produced from natural gas (aka grey hydrogen) which results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.
Green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy sources resulting in no greenhouse gas emissions, could significantly support the decarbonisation of industries like ammonia, methanol, and steel production. Green hydrogen also has significant applications in decarbonising transport where battery use is not feasible, heating buildings, and reducing the intermittency of renewable energy sources by being able to store energy as hydrogen for later use. Unfortunately, less than 0.1% of current global dedicated hydrogen production comes from hydrogen electrolysis, the method for producing green hydrogen from water by using electricity to separate hydrogen from oxygen, in large part due to the significantly higher production cost compared to more environmentally harmful methods.
One startup addressing the cost issue of hydrogen electrolysis, is London-based Supercritical Solutions. Traditionally, the production of green hydrogen requires three components: an electrolyser, a compressor, and storage. Supercritical have figured out a way to remove the need for expensive compressors by already producing hydrogen in the electrolyser at very high pressure. They are able to do this because their electrolyser design does not use hydrogen separating membranes like traditional systems, allowing them to work with supercritical water* and generate gases at over 200 bar of pressure. This new method supposedly reduces energy consumption to produce the same amount of hydrogen by 20%, which could be reduced even further by using waste heat from other industrial processes.
This alone will not make green hydrogen production as cheap as more environmentally harmful methods, but it will accelerate that transition. Improvements in electrolyser technology and falling renewable energy prices could make green hydrogen cost competitive as soon as 2030.
* A supercritical fluid is one that is heated and compressed above its critical state so that it is no longer a liquid or a gas but a combination of both, allowing it to diffuse like a gas and dissolve like a liquid.
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⚡️ Ostrom - Making green energy easy
When I moved to Germany I was able to set up my bank account from my bed using my phone, the same was possible for some insurance products, and setting up my investment account. The experience for setting up my internet, phone, and energy provider was a different story... with a lot of paper involved, terrible customer service, and so many options that you question whether you made the right choice in the end.
I didn’t make the right choice in terms of energy mix at the time. Moving into my first apartment I was focused on keeping costs to a minimum but in hindsight the few euros a month to go from 65% green energy mix to 100% would not have made such a big difference in my wallet but a bigger difference on my emissions – 27% of global emissions come from electricity. In my case this would mean a reduction of 165kg of CO2 emissions annually, if you haven’t switched to green energy already you’ll probably see a bigger change unless you also live in a tiny 35m2 apartment 😂
I went to the online portal of my electricity provider to find that there are 5 different options for green electricity... at various prices... but with little obvious information of what the difference is. I don’t think customer service and transparency have been the focus for energy giants, just how it wasn’t for banks who got disrupted by neo banks (online-first banks like Revolut or N26). This mobile-first and customer-centric approach is what Berlin-based energy startup Ostrom has been capitalising on – to make switching to green energy as easy as possible. They launched in May 2021 and have grown at over 100% month-on-month to already make it into the top 25% of energy providers in Germany. In my case, Ostrom’s offering is around €7 cheaper per month compared to the equivalent plan from my current traditional energy provider, so I can absolutely see why they are growing so fast!
Note: if I don’t mention them in the next edition it means it was as easy to switch as they promised 😉
🌱 Glaia - Enhancing photosynthesis to boost yield
If you have been following ‘tings for a while you might have notice that I cover food related topics quite frequently, from alternative proteins, precision fermentation and in the last edition precision agriculture. Researching precision agriculture for the last edition planted a seed in my head, pun intended, and lead me to diving deeper into how food is grown and what startups are doing in this field. One topic that drew my interest was that of fertilisers.
In the last edition we discovered that one of the largest sources of agricultural emissions is the nitrous oxide released from the soil as a result of using fertilisers, which has 300 times higher warming effect on our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Fertiliser use has been growing steadily to boost yield but increasing the amount of nutrients available to plants is only one part of the equation. For photosynthesis to occur and allow plant cells to grow and divide they need sunlight. In open-field farming the farmers are at the mercy of the weather, yields are heavily affected by how good or bad the growing season is.
Glaia, a University of Bristol spin-out, is trying to address this, not by manipulating the weather or the sun, but by accelerating the rate of photosynthesis in crops. They have developed a patented synthetic version of a naturally occurring carbon-nano material called sugar-dots that is able to increase the photosynthetic efficiency of plants. The sugar-dots are non-toxic, water soluble and are compatible with existing farming techniques, they can be applied to plants through irrigation systems or by spraying the water mixture on their foliage. In tests with wheat, strawberries, and tomatoes, yields increased between 20-40%. If this technology is able to scale to the requirements of large scale agriculture we could see massive yield boosts without the need for highly polluting nitrogen based fertilisers.
Thank you for making it to the end!
If you happened to enjoy reading this, why not send it around to a few friends so that more people can get an insight into what is being done to preserve the future of our planet 🌍
Until next time, much love,