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Nu:ionic unveils teal as a new shade of hydrogen

Using its Nu-X electric furnace, company can create hydrogen using 40% less natural gas

Nu:ionic's Microwave Catalytic Reformer product, pictured here, is an electric alternative to producing hydrogen using microwave technology. (Courtesy Nu:ionic)
Nu:ionic's Microwave Catalytic Reformer product, pictured here, is an electric alternative to producing hydrogen using microwave technology. (Courtesy Nu:ionic)

Fredericton, N.B.-based Nu:ionic looks to introduce "teal" to the existing palette of hydrogen "colours", forming cleaner hydrogen fuel from natural gas using electrical equipment combined with carbon capture.

Its industrial electric furnace, Nu-X, is designed as a more sustainable alternative to methods that use natural gas burners to produce hydrogen. Using electricity cuts natural gas needs by up to 40 per cent, the company says.

“Instead of using 100 per cent natural gas as a feedstock, we use roughly two-thirds natural gas feedstock and one-third in the form of zero-emissions, renewable electricity that does not result in additional Scope 1 emissions.” Jan Boshoff, co-founder and CEO of Nu:ionic, said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.

“We call our hydrogen teal because it is better than blue but it’s not actually green. It sits in the middle,” Arturo Puigbo, Nu:ionic’s chief commercial officer, told Sustainable Biz Canada about the company’s trademarked Teal Hydrogen.

Having signed a deal with Liberty Utilities on a commercial agreement, Boshoff said he hopes Nu:ionic will go from a startup to a scaleup this year.

Electrifying steam methane reformers

Started in 2016, Nu:ionic was co-founded by chemical engineer Boshoff, president and chief technology officer Jim Tranquilla and director Gregory Caswell. A Toronto-based funding group supported the company in 2019, with its Fredericton lab set up in 2020. In 2022, a U.S. investor took a stake in Nu:ionic.

A mission to electrify industries and minimize pollution guided the company as it developed microwave technology to replace fossil fuel-powered processes, Boshoff explained. It is developing a microwave catalytic reformer similar to Nu-X that helps decarbonize hydrogen made from natural gas using microwaves.

Hydrogen derived from natural gas, called grey hydrogen, is the dominant form today and generates most of the greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants from the fired heater in the steam methane reforming process, according to Nu:ionic. To make grey hydrogen, natural gas reacts with steam and a catalyst. Nu-X can be integrated into a hydrogen producer’s equipment to change this.

Unlike a gas-powered fired heater, Nu-X consists of a furnace with an array of electrical elements that heat up process tubes to play a part in converting natural gas to hydrogen, Puigbo explained.

By eliminating natural gas as the energy source in the production of grey hydrogen, natural gas demand is cut by approximately one-third. 

The process also results in the creation of liquid carbon dioxide, which can be sequestered or sold on the market. Nu:ionic also offers a complementary carbon capture technology that can raise the carbon reduction by up to 90 per cent.

Other than natural gas, Nu-X is compatible with renewable biogas, and the company anticipates it will be viable with ammonia and methanol.

A Nu-X furnace is 10-times smaller than a conventional steam methane reformer, enabling scalability and efficiency for large industrial players. Current commercial scale units can produce up to 20 tonnes of hydrogen per day.

The technology behind Nu-X was developed with Tulsa, Okla.-based XRG Technologies, an engineering company that develops cleaner equipment for the refining, petrochemical and power markets.

Adding ‘teal’ to the hydrogen spectrum

At a carbon intensity of 13.6 grams per megajoule of hydrogen, Puigbo says Teal Hydrogen from Nu-X is as competitive as hydrogen made from an electrolyzer, and creates a third of the pollution compared to blue hydrogen.

While the choice of producing hydrogen fuel from a fossil fuel like natural gas may not seem like the greenest option, Boshoff said it is more economical compared to electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

“Electrolyzers use a lot of electricity as feed, and so it’s a significant price risk on the hydrogen that’s produced because you’re relying on grid supply for electrical power. We reduce that grid dependency by a power of four and so the cost structure is just significantly better,” he said.

The long wait times for electrolyzers is another impediment to mass adoption, Puigbo mentioned.

Working toward commercialization

Nu:ionic declined to disclose details on much its business, but Boshoff referenced its 2023 memorandum of understanding with Liberty in Atlantic Canada to produce 2.4 tonnes of hydrogen per day using its microwave catalytic reformer. Liberty piloted adding hydrogen to the region’s natural gas mix.

Potential customers include developers of clean energy equipment, low-carbon hydrogen fuel producers, utilities wanting to blend more hydrogen in their fuel supplies, and small-scale chemicals firms that need to decarbonize their hydrogen.

The company’s goal in 2024 is to enter the market and grow to a scaleup. It is also seeking to announce partnerships in North America and Europe, and has the ambition of supporting facilities that will have a per day production capacity of 20 tonnes to 100 tonnes in next two to three years.

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