In what could prove a milestone for an industry that hopes to help address climate change, the Silicon Valley company Ohmium announced Wednesday it has raised $250 million to increase production of machines that can make clean hydrogen and displace fossil fuels.
Some climate experts say burning hydrogen can substitute for burning coal, oil or gas, for example in making steel or cement — without contributing to climate change. That’s been largely theoretical, but real world examples are now growing.
Just four or five years ago, a company working on clean hydrogen from water would not have been able to raise several hundred million dollars, said Daryl Wilson, executive director of the Hydrogen Council. But now there’s rapid growth and demand for it, and a broader recognition that it’s key to addressing climate change, he said.
Mark Viehman, a hydrogen and clean fuels expert at the consulting firm Capgemini, called $250 million a “very impressive” fundraise, and said its own recent research found that 64% of energy and utility companies plan to put money into low-carbon hydrogen efforts by 2030.
Ohmium’s role is to make electrolyzers, the devices that take water and split it into hydrogen and oxygen.
CEO Arne Ballantine said the company will use the $250 million to scale up its plant in Chikkaballapur, outside Bengaluru, India, continue research at the Fremont, California headquarters to reduce the cost of production, and add to its 400-person workforce.
Ballantine said he plans to make enough electrolyzers each year to supply 2 gigawatts’ worth of hydrogen — enough for a few steel or fertilizer plants or several refineries.
Countries and industries are setting ambitious targets to cut carbon dioxide from heavy manufacturing using hydrogen. There are also plans to use it in power generation and transport. The United States, European Union, Canada and India are offering tax credits and production incentives for clean, or green, hydrogen.
The International Energy Agency said in September that global hydrogen demand reached 94 million tons in 2021. Nearly 200 million tons will be needed by 2030 to get on track for net zero emissions by 2050, it said. There are about two dozen major electrolyzer manufacturers.
An electrolyzer produces clean hydrogen if it draws electricity from a grid that’s powered by renewable energy, such as wind and solar. Ballantine said Ohmium clients are completely focused on this method. This will be a major change, because less than 1% of hydrogen produced globally now comes from renewable energy, according to the IEA.
It will take a significant ramp-up in electrolyzer manufacturing and in zero-carbon electricity to meet the demand for low-emissions hydrogen, said Emily Kent, the U.S. director for zero-carbon fuels at the Clean Air Task Force. That’s because it requires massive amounts of electricity to run the electrolyzers.
Most hydrogen today is made from natural gas, which means greenhouse gases are released to get it out of the ground, and then more can leak as it travels through pipelines. Then to crack the hydrogen from natural gas, companies burn more fossil fuel to make steam, releasing more planet-warming greenhouse gases, unless carbon capture technology is used. This common method does not require an electrolyzer and the hydrogen then goes on to be used mainly in the refining and chemical sectors.
Some U.S. power plants plan to use Ohmium’s “Lotus” electrolyzer as a partial substitute for natural gas. Ohmium is also collaborating with Spanish energy company Cepsa and renewable energy developer Amp Energy India on green hydrogen projects. It announced an agreement last week to send an electrolyzer to a liquified natural gas import terminal in Andalusia, Spain.
Each electrolyzer can generate up to 50 tons of hydrogen per year, costs a few hundred thousand dollars and comes in a cabinet 8 feet high by 5 feet wide by 6 feet long, according to Ohmium. They’re interlocking and modular, in case more than one is needed.
Ballantine said it can be difficult to grasp exactly what hydrogen gas is and how it is useful in lessening climate change. But if he shows someone a piece of steel and says it was made releasing far less greenhouse gases, because we burned hydrogen made from water instead of burning coal to heat it up, then they get it, he said.