© HNO International
© HNO International

H2 View introduces… HNO International

US-based HNO International (HNOI) was thrust into the spotlight in January after its Compact Hydrogen Refuelling Station (CHRS) successfully refuelled a Toyota Mirai in Houston, Texas.

Capable of refuelling both fuel cell electric (FCEV) and hydrogen internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, the CHRS is expected to be a space-efficient system designed to generate, store and dispense fuel cell-grade hydrogen extracted via AEM electrolysis.

Originally established as an electrolyser business, HNOI has recently shifted focus to both the production and distribution of hydrogen, creating a “unique approach” according to President and CEO, Paul Mueller. The company now targets the development of 15 hydrogen production and refuelling facilities along “critical arteries” by the end of the decade.

“The initial work was on small electrolysers to help improve the performance and emissions in diesel vehicles,” explained Mueller. “We are an electrolyser company which has grown over time as the utility and viability of intermediate to large-scale hydrogen as an alternative fuel has grown.

“We’ve morphed over the last couple years into hydrogen production, specifically for offtake and about a year and a half ago focused on refuelling. We’re really focused on what I’d call regional hydrogen production and local distribution through our Scalable Hydrogen Energy Platform (SHEP) and CHRS, which would be ideal for building the refuelling infrastructure that will be required to pull forward the hydrogen logistics community.

© HNO International

“Replacing the fossil fuel, long-haul logistics within distributed hydrogen production and refuelling capability will then allow that economy to come forward,” he added.

HNOI producing hydrogen on site before distributing it via refuelling is what makes the approach so unique, Mueller believes. “In addition to having the compression and refuelling capability, we actually have a set of electrolysers onsite to generate the hydrogen a station needs.

“A lot of people have gotten into elements of hydrogen refuelling, but nobody’s come up with a way to produce the hydrogen onsite, or near a dispensing site, which reduces the cost of distribution tremendously and lowers the cost of refuelling.”

Mueller said the company’s production and refuelling solutions would “ideally be suited for all types of applications,” however, he expects to see an eventual focus on long-haul, heavy-duty logistics types of vehicles, despite an initial focus on passenger applications.

“The system is going to have the utility to accommodate any of the hydrogen vehicles coming online, but long-haul logistics is going to be our real focus as I think that’s where the market is going to go.”

A lot has been learned by both HNOI and players within the hydrogen refuelling sector from the challenges of electric vehicle (EV) charging, according to Mueller. “Moving to a hydrogen-based logistics distribution network is going to require a lot of capital,” Mueller said.

“The real challenge is convincing the potential users of hydrogen that it’s going to be available when they need it, which will justify the capital investment.

“Right now, we’re in the chicken and the egg situation. Are people going to be investing in hydrogen fuel cell trucking? Probably not until they have an extremely reliable hydrogen distribution refuelling network.

“So, how do you demonstrate that we can have a distributed refuelling network that supports those kind of long-haul logistics runs so that we can get people to invest in the technology that’s being developed.”

He added that despite the challenges, the logistics field will never be able to go EV, the only alternative is hydrogen but there won’t be capital investment, “until the infrastructure is there.”

There is also the concern around the availability of hydrogen, which is where HNOI believes it can make an impact. “With the approach that we’re taking – with regional hydrogen production and local distribution – it could result in relatively small chunks of capitalisation in a distributed network whilst having reliable hydrogen distribution.”

Mueller cited the closure of several hydrogen refuelling stations in California, US, as a reason the reputation surrounding hydrogen-powered vehicles was damaged. “That’s where our approach is uniquely positioned,
he said.

“We’re not going to make hydrogen down on the Gulf Coast, liquefy it and then ship it across country, taking it from $7/kg at offtake to $35 at the consumption, which is what some hydrogen locations in California are doing right now.”

In addition to its local production and distribution culture, HNOI is not dependent on government-led incentives to make its model economically viable. “Right now, the government’s focus is on large-scale hydrogen production and storage, the Hydrogen Hubs.

“Most of that is focused traditionally on large, capital-intensive projects which have a long time to market and a long time to get the money freed up. That’s going to be long-term – it took them about two years to get the first study contracts issued.

“What we’ve done is said, ‘there’s no reason to wait that long.’ We are developing a prototype capability that reduces the time to market and requires extremely less capital than the larger production and distribution technologies need. Our focus was to get to market first with a reliable hydrogen production and distribution system that can serve local markets.”

Whilst HNOI could benefit from the incentives, once defined and delineated, its “cost model doesn’t require that,” according to Mueller.

“We find that we can be cost-effective, get to market quicker, less capital investment and have a reliable hydrogen production capability that doesn’t rely on tax incentives or rebates that are being offered by the government.”

Cross-industry collaboration

After refuelling the Toyota Mirai at its Houston facility, Mueller said the “publicity and visibility greatly enhances HNOI’s situation.” He added, “We are in some discussions with fairly significant vehicle manufacturers for preliminary offtake agreements, providing hydrogen to their vehicles across two different locations.”

Big names, such as Toyota, really gives HNOI some support and visibility, according to Mueller. “We have contacts with Cummins and others to explore the engine manufacturers that are working on fuel cell engines.

“We’re in discussions with some of the front runners in the implementation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and we’re hoping those associations will give us some recognition.”

HNOI is now beginning to form partnerships with customers on the consumption side. “There are some early adopters interested in hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and our production and distribution model.. We have not penetrated yet, but we’re looking at teaming with several of the truck stops throughout the US highways.

“We want to team with those folks to put a regional hydrogen production capability at several of those truck stops and be able to distribute it,” he said. “Potentially through our containerised version we’re working on, which could be put on the back of a truck stop lot using the existing footprint and infrastructure. Those kinds of partnerships are going to be critical.

“We’re in the process of implementing the hardware development and we will start integration and have a hydrogen production and refuelling capability up and running for demonstration later this year.”

Mueller concluded by reiterating the company’s Chairman, Don Owen’s view. “Point don’t talk,” he said. “A lot of startups have developed concepts of operations, we’ve decided to develop the hardware and take it to market early.”

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