Asemblon, Forging Ahead With Hydrogen Fuel Dream, Leans on Partners to Make it Happen

4/18/11Follow @xconomy

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new partners yet, because he says talks are ongoing, they have heated up lately because of some key scientific progress in the past year. Asemblon’s family of organic carriers now make it possible to store up to 12.5 gallons of liquid hydrogen fuel, enough to power a car engine for a range of about 300 miles. That’s comparable to the amount of gas volume and range in a typical gas-powered passenger car.

Important as the efficiency gain may be, there is still a lot of technical work to do at Asemblon. The carrier molecules still need to be combined with industrial catalysts inside a custom-designed reactor before people will be able to fill up tanks with liquid hydrogen on demand. The latest estimate is that it will take another 12 months to integrate the organic carriers with the catalyst and reactor system, and then another 12 months to build a prototype to demonstrate it can work, before the system is really ready for the marketplace.

“It’s not trivial, but it’s doable,” Ramage says about the next steps.

There have been plenty of setbacks. Asemblon is “on a never-ending search for cash,” and frankly, hasn’t found as much lately as it would like. The company, which had 30 employees when I wrote about it two years ago, has cut down to just five employees today to conserve its remaining cash, Ramage says. If Asemblon can get the cash it needs from partners or angel investors, Ramage says he anticipates growing back up to about 15 employees.

Much of Asemblon’s future depends on how well its partners do. One of them is Vision Industries, which is seeking to commercialize a zero-emission big rig it calls the Tyrano truck. This truck relies on a combination of power from a plug-in electric motor and hydrogen fuel. Vision Industries earlier this month won a $1.4 million contract from the Port of Los Angeles to retrofit 15 electric trucks with the hydrogen power system to extend their range. The current range of the trucks is limited because the hydrogen system requires high-pressure cold storage, which is only available at 41 stations in California.

Cryo-compressed hydrogen stations cost about $2.1 million apiece today, while Asemblon figures that stations using its form of hydrogen fuel would cost about one-tenth as much.

It’s hard to say how big Asemblon’s business could be, if it ever gets off the ground. But the model hinges on being a technology provider to big partners, who would then make the investment in hydrogen fueling infrastructure—which they will really only do it if saves them money over the long term in operating costs. If the partners do that, then Asemblon could be in position to collect a healthy amount of royalties on hydrogen fuel going into trucks.

“We have no illusion that a handful of scientists can try to commercialize something like this at scale,” Ramage says.

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  • Jose Jimanez

    Hasn’t this Buddy Ratner scam died yet? How come nothing got done the last time money was raised for more Ratner musings? Buddy’s rep at WRF is that he should only publish in the Journal of Irreproducible Results. Sounds like more wishful thinking and kool aide drinking BS. Doesn’t Luke do journalism or just write puff pieces with no investigationg at all.