Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and scientists have dreamed for years about turning it into a source of clean alternative fuel. The vision hasn’t materialized, but one Seattle-area entrepreneur, Michael Ramage of Asemblon, says he is more confident than ever that this idea can reach the marketplace in about two years.
“I’m optimistic,” he says.
Asemblon, advised by University of Washington bioengineering professor Buddy Ratner, has long seen itself as a key technology provider to the hydrogen fuel business. The company, founded in 2005, has raised about $12 million since inception to develop organic carrier molecules that are supposed to make hydrogen practical as a liquid fuel. The big knock on hydrogen has always been that it requires a whole new infrastructure for distribution and storage, making it too expensive and impractical to replace fossil fuels.
Asemblon’s way around this problem is through its science, and an incremental business strategy. Scientifically, it is seeking to enable hydrogen to be stored at a wide range of extreme hot and cold temperatures, and without high pressure tanks, so people can carry it around in containers or ship it on pipelines or on trucks like gasoline. That’s much different from the hydrogen fuel of today, which must be kept under high pressure and in cold temperatures. That isn’t cost efficient, and raises safety concerns in the event of a crash.
The business plan is to license the hydrogen storage technology to partners, who will put it to work in the commercial trucking business. Commercial trucking makes sense as a place to start, Ramage says, because it’s a large market that accounts for about one-fifth of all the U.S. transportation fuel. And yet it doesn’t represent such a huge distribution challenge, because most of the fuel goes through about 500 commercial fueling stations dotted along Interstate highways from coast to coast, says Ramage, who will be a speaker at Xconomy Seattle’s next event, titled “Separating Hype From Reality in Alternative Fuels” on May 19th.
One of Asemblon’s partners, Los Angeles-based Vision Industries, has said it believes hydrogen fuel stations could be equipped to serve cross country truckers for less than $100 million. And Ramage says one of Asemblon’s other prospective partners—whom he wouldn’t identify—has told him its fleet of 17,000 commercial trucks could save $120 million to $130 million a year by switching to hydrogen fuel, assuming diesel stays where it is, at more than $4 a gallon on average nationally.
“The economics are what will really drive this,” Ramage says.
While Ramage isn’t in position to announce any … Next Page »
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