Hydrogen is everywhere. It is the most common element in the universe. The problem? It is scarce, like gas, in the form in which it is needed to provide clean fuel for homes and businesses.

On Earth, hydrogen is contained in the largest amount in the form of water. But there are two main ways hydrogen and oxygen atoms split to form CO2 as waste, or it is prohibitively expensive due to high energy consumption.

HiiROC, a Hull-based startup, has developed a third, lower-cost, zero-emission way to produce hydrogen. The solution is based on the patented plasma torch technology that the company has developed and is currently being refined in the startup’s laboratories.

Once deployed in industrial settings, this could help unlock the full potential of hydrogen.

How does HiiROC work?

The company’s hydrogen production units use source gases such as methane, flare gas or biomethane under high pressure and with a very strong electric field between the anode and the cathode.

This separates the tightly bound molecules into hydrogen and carbon atoms, both of which are released as plasma (as a gas). The carbon is instantly cooled and solidified as pure carbon, meaning that no carbon dioxide is produced during the quenching process to prevent it from turning back into input gas.

The end products are hydrogen and carbon black, a material used in rubber tires, inks and paints.

It is a material that has a wide range of industrial applications, but modern production methods generate large amounts of CO2 and other environmentally harmful by-products.

“Our process is emission-free,” says HiiROC co-founder and CEO Tim Davis. “Because all you have is hydrogen and solid carbon are two products.”

For every kilogram of hydrogen produced using the HiiROC units, you are left with three kilograms of soot. It is, however, a potentially valuable, clean solid byproduct and does not contribute to global warming unlike processes that create carbon dioxide.

The company is firmly focused on revolutionizing hydrogen production. It is on the verge of testing the technology in an industrial setting and, if all goes to plan, it could revolutionize energy generation in the UK and beyond.

Launching HiiROC

HiiROC was founded in 2019 by Davies, Simon Morris (Chief Commercial Officer) and Atte Wiekamp (Chief Scientific Officer).

The trio brings with them decades of experience in high-tech industries, scientific knowledge and FTSE 250 executive experience.

After global test house SGS independently validated the technology, work began in earnest in late 2020 when HiiROC secured Series A funding.

This provided capital for two laboratories in Hull where HiiROC conducts trials to develop, certify and validate the technology.

But just as the company was gaining momentum, Covid-19 struck. Blockages occurred, supply chains became more complex, and laboratory work became more difficult.

However, due to the success of the development, HiiROC secured additional funding in a Series B round in November 2021, bringing the total capital raised to £30 million. Among its strategic and financial backers are companies such as German natural gas producer Wintershall Dea, investment firm HydrogenOne Capital, Centrica and car manufacturer Hyundai.

With the UK free from lockdown and armed with fresh funding, HiiROC has gone ahead with development.

HiiROC became part of KPMG earlier this year A privately held technology innovator in the UK competition. At the annual event, more than 200 scalers from across the UK pitched their innovative business ideas, each aiming to tackle the world’s biggest societal challenges, competing in regional finals before being taken to 12 finalists at the national level.

After an intense fast pitch in front of the judges at the Nexus Center in Leeds, HiiROC was crowned champion.

Since then, HiiROC has seen interest in its technology grow and its profile rise.

“We’ve really seen an increase in incoming inquiries from a number of parties,” says Davis, who gave the victory speech. “Our authority in the first talks with other parties has strengthened. This raised profile has raised awareness of the problem of hydrogen in general – how to make it in new, better and cheaper ways – and for HiiROC in particular. And, of course, the gratitude of the shareholders.”

HiiROC business model

Conversations with potential partners are a key part of HiiROC’s next step as it plans to commercialize the technology.

Hydrogen molecules are small and difficult to compress. This makes it difficult to store and transport, while the UK’s national pipeline network is not suitable for transporting large volumes of hydrogen.

To counter this problem, HiiROC plans to install its machines at customer sites where they can be connected directly to waste gases, biomethane or gas pipelines, thus avoiding storage and transportation issues.

He plans to make a profit by renting out his machines to companies that charge a fee for producing hydrogen and carbon.

Many industries need hydrogen, which means HiiROC has a wide range of potential customers.

Their smallest machine can produce up to 100 kilograms of hydrogen per day. But because of their modular design and small size, they can be easily folded to increase production, making them scalable for businesses that need large-scale industrial hydrogen production.

World innovator

However, before that, HiiROC aims to test its technology in companies of various industries. The first pilots, which will take place in the UK and Northern Europe, are expected to start in early 2023.

It aims to partner with companies with multiple sites so that the technology can be easily expanded and scaled.

HiiROC is also working with universities to explore new ways of using carbon black, such as adding it to concrete in the construction industry to enhance the cyclical nature of the hydrogen production process.

But in the near future, HiiROC will face another challenge: competing with tech innovators from 21 other countries for the crown KPMG Global Tech Innovator 2022.

The final will take place on November 2 in Lisbon together with the Web Summit.

“It’s a hugely exciting, fantastic opportunity, but also a huge challenge: the competition for the regional heats and the national final was intense – some amazing ideas and brilliant presentations – and the final in Lisbon will be an even bigger step forward,” says Davies.

“This will be a great opportunity to highlight new ways to produce low-cost, zero-emission hydrogen to a global audience that will no doubt include potential partners, suppliers, investors, consultants, policy makers and thought leaders.”

Register here to watch HiiROC compete in the Global Tech Innovator Finals on Wednesday, November 2nd.

In partnership with KPMG.

Meet HiiROC, the startup making low-cost hydrogen free from emissions