The most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen, is a clean fuel that is key to moving the world's energy dependence away from fossil-based systems. However, hydrogen does not exist in its pure form, so it must be separated from other substances before it can be stored and used.
Current processes for extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels generate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Capturing these carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions complicates hydrogen production and raises the costs. Whatever the process, it takes massive amounts of time, energy and money.
British Columbia-based startup Ekona Power has solved this dilemma with a completely new approach—methane pyrolysis. "After 18 months of examining existing techniques, we became confident that this technology had the best potential for maintaining low costs while driving GHG emissions down by up to 90%," says Gary Schubak, Ekona's Vice-President of Business Development and Government Relations. The technology converts natural gas feedstock into hydrogen and solid carbon by heating the methane molecule until it breaks apart. The platform can be installed alongside natural gas infrastructure to deliver decarbonized fuel to industries and communities.
The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in Vancouver has been collaborating with Ekona to model their reactor and characterize the solid carbon by-product. This will accelerate scaling and commercialization and help the company meet its goal "to produce affordable, clean hydrogen." The firm expects to have a 200‑kilogram-per-day prototype ready for field testing by March 2023 with applications in industries such as transportation, energy and chemicals.
"When we first started out in 2017, the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program helped us launch our business. We have also received tremendous financial support from investors such as Baker Hughes, Suncor, Cenovus and IBET," adds Schubak.