November 30, 2021

H2U - When AI and Robotics meet Hydrogen

Leo Liu and Teng Zeng

The Hydrogen Economy  

As the world promotes green energy and decarbonization, hydrogen applications have gradually entered people’s vision. However, not all forms of hydrogen are environmentally friendly and renewable. Gray hydrogen, for example, is formed by mixing methane with carbon dioxide, making it the least renewable form of hydrogen. The “gray” part comes with its generation of CO2 and overall negativity to the climate. Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is generated by renewable sources like wind and solar power. Significantly lower in carbon emissions, green hydrogen is the most sustainable form of hydrogen for green energy. 

Today, the most form of hydrogen being produced is gray hydrogen. Renewable hydrogen is not being produced as much because it acquires a higher quality of catalysts like Iridium and platinum. In recent years, demand for Green Hydrogen increased due to decarbonization strategies from Governments and NGOs. According to PWC, green hydrogen demand could go up to 500 million tons per year by 2050 (currently 50 Mt per year). With such an increase in the need for green hydrogen, the supply cost has also jumped tremendously. In 2020, Iridium increased its price by more than 200 percent. Platinum, a catalyst for all fuel cells, is also forecasted to undergo rapid growth soon. Such an increase in the cost of raw materials creates a supply challenge for the hydrogen economy to scale up appropriately. 

About H2U Technology

To overcome the supply constraint in green hydrogen production and applications, H2U provides a technology to discover new catalysts at a much lower price. H2U uses AI and data mining to search for high-performing catalysts to replace existing ones like Iridium and platinum. Once it has a list of potential candidates, it synthesizes these samples through H2U’s high throughput system. A screening device will measure and quantify samples’ catalytic activity. Further analysis will narrow down the list of highly qualified samples to be selected for prototype development. From searching optimal candidates to screening for highly suitable catalysts, the 4-step discovery process can quantify the catalytic activity of over 1 million compositions daily. Compared to most companies who generate 1 to 2 tests daily, H2U’s proprietary catalyst discovery process demonstrates an unfair advantage for electrolytes in the hydrogen economy. 


Furthermore, H2U looks to resolve the supply bottleneck across other industry participants. By providing license H2U catalysts and potentially H2U electrolyzes to other participants, H2U aims to provide customers and partners a way to be an early adapter within the hydrogen economy. 

TSVC Conviction

TSVC holds constant interests in cross-disciplinary technology commercialization: high throughput AI+data-driven approach to discover new catalysts for generation of clean hydrogen. This is not a sudden, unsophisticated thought; rather it has been developed over the years. The first practice dates back to as early as 2014 when Eugene (our founding partner) first met Ginkgo Bioworks (refer to our story blog with Ginkgo). AI+Robotics applied to the field of biology, this concept strikes TSVC founders as the next technology revolution. In September, Ginkgo Bioworks became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, trading under the ticker symbol “DNA.” Similar belief was reflected from our recent investment on Automat Solutions, where AI+robotics meet material science. 

TSVC has formalized and executed upon the “Three Pillars” framework for seed-stage investment, the market (The Hydrogen Economy), the tech/product (About H2U Technology) and the team. To shred a light on the founding team of H2U, Dr. Nathan Lewis is needless to say the soul person. He is the founder and chief scientist of H2U and, on the other hand, a renowned Chemistry Professor at Caltech. Dr. Lewis is also one of the Principal Investigators at Caltech’s Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), where H2U was spun out from. The technology behind H2U is based on over 10 years of research and development at JCAP, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. As the technology gets mature, Dr. Lewis has assembled a team of business leaders to commercialize the products.,in%20an%20environmental%2Dfriendly%20manner.

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