Hydrogen is being touted as a more-than-feasible option for a future-proof fuel for multiple applications. This is not, however, without its challenges, one of the most pertinent being the issues of storage and transport (liquefied hydrogen, for example, requires storage at -253°C).

Voyex has taken a new and optimized approach to liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) technology to come up with a high-energy density solution that is non-flammable, non-explosive and non-toxic. The LOHC stores hydrogen at room temperature and is transported without pressurisation. These characteristics, says Voyex co-founder Fabian Benschop, make this technology “a real game changer” for diesel-powered heavy duty applications and industries, like the maritime sector.

How did you come up with the idea of Voyex, a company developing hydrogen as a zero emissions fuel?

With the whole subject of climate change, the momentum for hydrogen in the energy transition is really picking up. As we anticipate solar and wind electricity will be abundant in the future, a molecule like hydrogen that has the capacity to store and transport this energy is pivotal for the future energy system. However, there are a lot of safety concerns around the storage and transport of hydrogen. If you want to deploy it in heavy duty mobility – as a ship fuel, for example – working with compressed or liquefied hydrogen is not easy. Moreover, other options such as methanol or ammonia pose severe safety concerns and are complex to adopt. This is where Voyex comes in, focusing on the challenges of hydrogen storage and transport using an LOHC, a liquid organic hydrogen carrier.

Can you tell us more about what an LOHC is?

This technology has actually been around since the 1970s. LOHCs are organic compounds that can absorb and release hydrogen through chemical reactions: hydrogenation and dehydrogenation. Hydrogenation is a process that uses hardly any electricity and in fact, creates substantial heat that we can put to good use for other purposes. And because the LOHC is a liquid, it is quite straightforward to transport from A to B. Once at its user destination, a process of dehydrogenation makes the hydrogen available to generate power, for example in a hydrogen combustion engine. Then the LOHC is ready for hydrogenation again – it’s rechargeable.

How can this replace diesel?

We knew that we would really have to raise the bar for an LOHC to actually substitute diesel – to be a real game changer. So we spent a lot of time analysing various chemicals to figure out what substances would make a suitable carrier oil. We used 25 criteria to do this, looking at characteristics such as toxicity, flammability, energy requirements, and sustainability. Aside from the best safety performance and highest hydrogen storage content, what makes us unique is that we need much less energy and lower temperatures to release the hydrogen. This means that when we bring the LOHC onboard, we can get enough heat from the exhaust of the engine to release the hydrogen from the liquid. In other words, you can use existing engine technology, but now with LOHC instead of diesel as your power medium.

Voyex started in 2020. What is the current status of this technology?

After three years of proving the principle of our technology in the laboratory, increasing the scale without losing performance and getting to grips with the synthesis of the carrier, we are now ready to upscale to an operational setting.

Exciting! Tell us more.

We noticed that although potential launching customers are impressed with our laboratory test systems, they find it hard to imagine it onboard a ship. So, we are building a strong and robust 30-kilowatt system that will be ready in early 2024. This is really going to be a confidence builder that allows us to commit the launching customers.

How big will this 30-kilowatt set-up be?

This will be 1x1x2 metres. And looking ahead, future systems will be even smaller: we anticipate that our launching product of 100-200kW will fit inside a 20-foot container, containing our dehydrogenation system and also the engine which converts the hydrogen into electricity. All in one integrated system.

What industries do you see this technology being suitable for?

We have always been focused on the maritime sector; this includes generator sets and maritime applications for various markets. Inland waterway vessels, tugs, ferries, crew transport vessels, and coastal ships are all feasible examples. This is where we have a realistic and cost-effective solution that really solves the problem. But we also see our first steps in the building and construction industry by providing zero emission electricity with gensets. On top of that, we have had a lot of requests from other sectors; long-distance trucks and industry applications, for example.

What do you want to achieve by being part of the PortXL program?

We are very lucky that we have four partners that want to work with us; we see our launching customer in this group of four. Besides a launching customer, we are looking to our PortXL partners to support us with our supply chain, human capital and permits.