AVOXT is an innovative startup organisation tackling the challenges of making the deployment of green hydrogen affordable and scalable. We spoke with CEO Ton Rademaker and CTO Pascal van Bakel about AVOXT’s mission and how they are employing their power electronics to design efficient and sustainable electrolysers. Due to their modular structure, these are also highly scalable when the market demands it.
Knowledge, Experience, and Creative Energy Combine
In the introduction, Ton tells us about the inception of AVOXT, a startup that originated about a year and a half ago: “I have been working in executive roles for over 15 years. First 5 years at Philips, followed by another 10 years at a medical technology company. My two partners come from the technical field. Dario, the CFO and software expert, has a background in electrical engineering plus an MBA and has co-founded several startups which he has been quite successful with.” Pascal introduces himself: “I studied mechanical engineering at TU Eindhoven, specialising in energy technologies. There I learned a lot about efficiency, heat and different forms of renewable energy technology. During my studies, I worked at larger companies, but also did an internship at a startup. This experience was so positive that it sparked the idea to start a startup myself. I came into contact with Dario and Ton through the HighTechXL programme, and together we started AVOXT.” In this way, as Ton puts it, ‘they have the best of both worlds – the expertise of the seasoned professional and the knowledge and audacity of youth.’
Investing in a Bright Future
AVOXT consists of a team of 7 people. They develop power electronics based on a specific technology provided by the Swiss CERN (a European organisation that conducts fundamental research into elementary particles), which they aim to integrate into electrolysers.
“This technology can be deployed in places where electricity needs to be transferred very accurately, very controlled and very efficiently,” Ton explains. “When I had my second grandchild, it hit me even more that, now we are all in a climate crisis, we must do something for the future. The HighTechXL programme focuses on building new propositions, and so the idea was born to utilise this technology to produce hydrogen.”
Challenges in the Hydrogen Industry
The team at AVOXT conducted market research, which quickly made it clear that there is a lot of talk and writing about hydrogen. “There is an image being painted that by 2030 we will need a lot of hydrogen in order to become less dependent on fossil fuels. To get there, a lot still needs to happen. An infrastructure must be established to transport the hydrogen. There must be green energy to make hydrogen, which is not sufficiently available at the moment. And there must be users of hydrogen. Our estimation is that hydrogen will primarily be used in heavy transport: ships and trucks. And first in the chemical industry as a lot of hydrogen is already being produced and used there, although it is currently mainly grey hydrogen,” says Ton.
This is the market AVOXT has chosen to target in the development of its technology. “This market is the first logical one, the replacement market, followed by the transport, heating and energy markets,” Pascal supplements. “The latter does have a particular aspect because electricity is hard to store. You can put it in a battery, but that drains. You can also store energy in hydrogen, but hydrogen does not lose energy over time. Therefore, hydrogen is a nice way to build up an energy buffer. Because green energy is variably available. The sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow. So, you always need some overcapacity to meet a normal energy demand and then also to build and store a buffer. There are no renewable solutions yet to constantly provide power, so you will always have to respond to renewable energy supply. You will always need to have flexibility in this.”
Armed with this knowledge, the team got to work to develop a business case. In doing so, they investigated the use of both PEM and alkaline.
“We quickly came to the conclusion that with PEM, you have a scarcity problem concerning materials. You need a lot of platinum or iridium, and with this, you create a pretty sensitive device that needs a lot of maintenance. We didn’t want that,” Pascal explains. “Also, for sustainability reasons, we chose alkaline. Besides, it is a lot cheaper to make an alkaline electrolyser than a PEM electrolyser, and it is less complex. So, we got to work on that.”
Converting Detrimental Components into Efficiency
There is also currently a negative component in Alkaline, namely a lower efficiency. But the power electronics should be the added value of AVOXT’s working method and technology. Pascal explains: “With hydrogen, you need direct current. When you bring water and electricity together, gas bubbles are created, which you also want. But these gas bubbles cause problems. For example, they stick to the electrodes, making it difficult to circulate them and extract the gas. This reduces the efficiency. But by playing with the current, you can dislodge the bubbles so they come off faster and you ultimately need less electricity to produce the same amount or even more hydrogen.
In this way, you can transfer your electricity much better into your system and thereby convert electricity to hydrogen more efficiently, which is ultimately the goal.”
The goal of AVOXT is therefore to develop an electrolyser with this power technology in order to be able to deliver the most optimal, efficient, and affordable electrolyser. Further Development
More development is needed for this. Because when AVOXT’s power electronics technology is applied in a random electrolyser, you increase the efficiency, but you also increase the currents, which reduces the lifespan. “That’s why it’s important how the electrolyser is constructed and how it can handle the current that goes in,” Pascal explains. “The way we want to do it, there is a lot of flexibility in the applicability of the electrolyser, but significant adjustments are needed. That’s why we chose to add the complete electrolyser to our proposition. The power supply to the electrolyser and the part where electrolysis takes place. From where the plug goes in to where the gas comes out.”
The AVOXT team is working on building a new generation of electrolyser, combined with a more effective and efficient way to streamline your powers and able to provide more flexibility. This allows you to better respond to the turning on and off of the electrolyser with supply and demand. “Because a traditional electrolyser wants to keep working at one power setting and that is not possible with green energy. We ensure that it can handle this. The level of maintenance decreases and therefore the maintenance costs,” Ton clarifies. Applicability of the Electrolyser
The applicability of the electrolyser that AVOXT is going to build is broad. “Because it is not yet clear how the market will develop. There are plans to set up hundreds of gigawatts of parks. But when that happens, you also need large systems that are very efficient and require little maintenance. Ultimately, this consists of all modules that are linked together. And we can make those,” Ton explains.
“The market segment we are targeting is the 2 to 10 megawatt installation. So modules of 2 to 5 megawatts that are stacked like lego blocks until you have as large a plant as you want.”
The primary industry that AVOXT targets is the chemical industry where they already use hydrogen that is supplied. To be able to produce locally with a local electrolyser that uses green energy that is available in the immediate vicinity.
Next Steps in Product Development
“The prototype is almost ready. We are now testing with several hundred watts for both the power electronics and the electrolyser. The next step is 1 kilowatt or a few kilowatts and the step after that is a system of about 100 kilowatts. We have currently started a pilot project to be able to run in the field by connecting it to a wind turbine and testing. The final step is then to scale up all the lessons we have learned from that to the module we are working on,” Pascal explains.
AVOXT is mainly focused on developing the technology and wants to build the system together with various partners. “Because there are enough parties that can make parts of our design better than us. Our focus is on the control of the power supply and stacks, because that is where our added value lies. For the ‘balance of plant’, we like to work together with parties that have this as their expertise. So if a partner within the EMP network indicates that they can make the balance of plant, we would like to get in touch with them,” Ton says. Growing with the Market
The market is still developing so you don’t have to be ready tomorrow, but you want to be at least as ready as the rest of the players in the market. “As it stands now, it is expected that by 2030 there will need to be about 100 times as much capacity for making green hydrogen as is currently available. A lot still needs to happen for that and billions need to be invested. Our aim is to be in order and capacity somewhere halfway along that timeline. The pilot project that we currently have in the pipeline, where we are talking about hundreds of kilowatts, could even be running by the end of 2024, early 2025.” Looking for Collaboration with Partners
The AVOXT team is almost at the point of looking for partners. “We are currently orienting ourselves on this,” Ton says. “For example, for the power supply. The whole system needs to be built, as well as the prototypes and ultimately also the scaling up. If we could find a partner in that, it would be nice. To be able to use this expertise at an early stage to come up with the right specifications. The current prototype components come from different parties, but we hope to ultimately be able to work with a limited number of competent partners.”
What do you expect from the Electrolyser Makers Platform?
“We want to specialize and can’t focus on everything. We need others for this. It’s great to be in a network where you can find these partners. In addition, we have already gained a lot of knowledge about what an electrolyser can do. This may sound basic, but the location and technique are not always suitable for each other. We had to think a lot about this to come to our design. We would like to share this knowledge with partners,” Pascal replies to this. “Thinking much larger than just our own possibilities and developing from there. We have already spoken to many people in the industry and everyone is still searching. It’s all not yet crystallized and there is still much to learn. You move forward faster together. A platform in a niche like the Electrolyser Makers Platform can, in our opinion, help well to bring these parties together.”
“In addition, we need to lobby together,” Ton adds. “There is a lot of money available for this industry in Europe, but it is very difficult for a startup to get that money. If we could be helped with that from the platform, it would be of great help. We are a startup with experience and young energy. And that’s where it’s going to come from in this innovative market, together with experienced SMEs with R&D capacity. In this industry, you really need experience and new competencies with government support.” Collaborating with AVOXT or other participants
Message from the Electrolyser Makers Platform
Are you active in the electrolyser industry and want to connect with AVOXT to link your knowledge and production process? Or are you looking for another collaboration partner within the chain?
We would be happy to bring you together. Become a participant of the Electrolyser Makers Platform and come to one of our networking meetings or let us directly connect you with one of our participants.
THIS ARTICLE IS TRANSLATED IN ENGLISH AND REPRINTED WITH CONSENT OF THE ELECTROLYSER MAKERS PLATFORM.
The original article can be found here