Chemical process technology, but decentralised and on a small scale. That is HyGear’s speciality.
HyGear started out as a producer of local mini-hydrogen factories. The Arnhem-based company was responsible for developing the Netherlands’ very first public hydrogen filling station. But the company is also working on projects such as developing installations for bio-refinery, for example. Much of its work is in association with Wageningen University & Research Food & Biobased Research.
‘All our activities have a green edge’, says Ellart de Wit, Director of Governmental Relations & Research Programs at HyGear. ‘Demand for renewable energy is rising; this is illustrated by the inquiries we get from our clients.’ These clients see hydrogen as a clean alternative to the increasingly scarce supplies of fossil fuels. Due to the current state of technology, storage and transport are still a problem. The low density of hydrogen means that it has to be transported it to its destination by road, and so HyGear is focusing on local, small-scale hydrogen factories. Ellart: ‘By producing hydrogen locally, you take away the need for road transport. This makes an enormous difference to the costs and is better for the environment.’
Green raw materials
HyGear’s success is largely down to small-scale hydrogen generators. But since 2009, this is not the only area on which this profitable company is concentrating. Ellart: ‘We are now venturing beyond hydrogen and starting to develop other small-scale systems for fermenting biomass into green raw materials such as isopropanol, butanol and ethanol. Together with Food & Biobased Research staff, we are exploring the technical possibilities.’
The bio-refinery project is still in full swing. The Wageningen researchers are currently working on an important advance to connect two fermentation processes. Success will bring them a step closer to cost-effective production of green isopropanol, butanol and ethanol. The project will eventually produce a fully-crystallised business case. ‘We will then have a full picture of the technical possibilities, the refinery system that needs to be built and the projected costs and benefits.’
According to Ellart, it was only a matter of time before HyGear and Wageningen University & Research started working together. ‘Wageningen is one of the world’s leading lights in terms of biochemical research. And our activities fit in with this perfectly. Of course another advantage is that Wageningen is just around the corner. This makes it easier to respond swiftly and look behind the scenes.’
The collaboration is working well, says Ellart. ‘The vital part of successful collaboration is wanting to understand each other. The people at Wageningen know all there is to know about fermentation processes. We are experts in how reactors work and why certain parts have to be placed next to each other. So together, we know a great deal. To me, that is the jewel in the crown of this project.’
This testimonial was published in the Food & Biobased Newsletter - November 2011