Geoff Pocock, Managing Director and Founder of the Hazer Group talks to AZoCleantech about how the Hazer process is producing clean hydrogen with Near-Zero Carbon Emissions.
Please can you give a brief overview of Hazer Group and the work you do?
Hazer Group was founded in 2010 to commercialise novel cleantech technology developed at the University of Western Australia, and we listed on the ASX in December 2015.
Prior to listing, eight years and $6 million was spent developing our commercial process that uses natural gas and unprocessed iron ore to create clean hydrogen, considered to be a key fuel in the transition to low carbon economy, and synthetic graphite, used in lithium ion batteries, lubrication and industrial applications.
Early this year we established our core development operations within a state of the art Laboratory for Sustainable Technology, part of the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Sydney. This partnership has rapidly advanced our ability to scale-up the Hazer Process.
Please can you tell us about the Hazer Process?
In the very simplest form, the Hazer Process takes two ubiquitous and cheap feedstocks (natural gas and iron ore), and converts them into two high demand products with enormous existing markets (hydrogen & synthetic graphite).
At the core of our technology is the use of iron-ore as a low-cost catalyst for a decomposition reaction. This gives us a strong commercial advantage for accessing both hydrogen and high-quality graphite markets.
What are the advantages of the Hazer Process in comparison to other traditional methods?
The key difference in the Hazer Process over alternative hydrogen production processes is that the carbon content of the natural gas feed (which is in effect 75% of the total mass of the feedstock) is captured as graphite, rather than converted into carbon dioxide. This graphite is a saleable product, giving the process two valuable products rather than just one and reduces the cost of the process.
And with would-be carbon emissions instead captured in the form of solid graphite, Hazer can produce 'clean’ hydrogen (with significant lower production of carbon dioxide emissions), enabling hydrogen to be used in a range of developing clean energy applications, as well as in large existing chemical processing industries.
What will the Hazer Process mean for the future of the Hydrogen Market?
Our vision is to play a major role in future hydrogen markets by producing economically competitive hydrogen, which is also ‘clean’.
The early stage indication is certainly that we have the potential to be the cheapest way of making hydrogen globally, while also significantly reducing the emissions traditionally associated with hydrogen production. And it’s this ‘clean’ hydrogen avenue where Hazer could literally be at the forefront of opening up new markets.
The global hydrogen market is estimated to be worth over $US100 billion in 2016 and growing to $US152 billion by 2021. This market is currently based on hydrogen’s use as an industrial chemical in the petroleum refining process to produce liquid fuels and as a feedstock for the production of ammonia and other chemicals. But hydrogen can also be used as a fuel in its own right, however current use in the energy market is constrained by production methods that emit high levels of CO2 as a by-product. There’s no real benefit in generating zero-emission energy using hydrogen if you have emitted a lot of CO2 in making the hydrogen in the first place.
Our goal is to be significantly reducing the cost of hydrogen production - delivering significant savings for these global hydrogen producers across these enormous markets. And the low-emissions associated with our process offers a gateway to cleaner hydrogen for applications in the sustainable energy market - for clean electricity, fuel-cell powered vehicles and synthetic fuels.
Hydrogen Car Concept. Image Credits: shutterstock.com/Ai825
So how big is this potential ‘clean’ hydrogen market?
It’s impossible to estimate just how big the clean energy opportunity could be here. What we do know is that despite the growing need for clean hydrogen, for now it’s production remains costly and carbon dioxide intensive, which cancels out the effectiveness of hydrogen-based clean energy production. And we believe our process provides a solution for that.
In my mind there is no doubt hydrogen is going to become an important clean energy fuel and could play a key role in future energy markets. But less than 5% of the 65m tonnes of hydrogen produced each year is currently used for energy applications.
So there is definitely an opportunity for clean hydrogen to make inroads in to the energy market. With a clean, cost-effective production process enabling hydrogen-based energy applications, we see potential for this $100bn per year hydrogen market to grow significantly.
By reducing costs and CO2 emissions, we can also have an impact on broader markets. Hydrogen is primarily used as an industrial chemical in the oil and gas industries, and for producing ammonia, which is used to make fertiliser and explosives. Many companies set up energy-intensive, greenhouse gas-emitting production plants on-site, to make the hydrogen they require. If our process reduces both the cost and CO2 emissions – then that can reduce the overall carbon footprint of these industries.
Hazer has long-term plans to see the Hazer technology in a range of plants that will be cost-competitive alternatives to current on-site industrial chemical plants. When this happens Hazer will already be playing a significant part in shifting the ‘clean’ hydrogen needle.
You mentioned graphite is a by-product of the Hazer Process, tell us a little more about that.
High purity synthetic graphite is the secondary product of the Hazer Process. And along side hydrogen, our synthetic graphite output offers a low cost, high quality alternative to traditional mined or synthetic graphite products.
Recently we produced synthetic graphite of 99% purity under non-optimised conditions. And interestingly our graphite characteristics show excellent comparison to high-end commercial forms of graphite such as synthetic spherical graphite used in lithium-ion batteries.
Even better this purity level was achieved with just a single stage chemical purification. Importantly, the chemical purification can be undertaken without the use of hydrofluoric acid (HF), which isn’t an ideal chemical to be working with on a daily basis and at scale. Prior to chemical purification, the graphite product harvested directly from our reactor under non-optimised conditions had a purity of 86%.
These initial results are extremely promising, as the industry currently purifies and uses graphite with much worst impurity levels and impurity types than ours. For example, mined graphite and petroleum coke are the main sources of graphite for global uses – both can start with grade or purity far less than 86% with a much broader range of unwanted impurities. We are confident our graphite, with a much better initial impurity profile, can economically be purified to the same levels as current market demands.
We also have the cost advantage on our side, as the synthetic graphite produced by the Hazer Process comes from inherently low cost feedstocks. The use of these low cost materials means the cost of producing graphite via the Hazer process should be significantly lower than any mined graphite product that is going to be available.
How do you see the graphite market playing out and what role does Hazer’s graphite play within it?
We are fortunate that like hydrogen, Hazer also has some significant tailwinds in graphite, as the world graphite market continues to grow rapidly. Most of the recent headlines have been around graphite and it’s application within the battery market, but it’s important to note that batteries make up only a small fraction of the multibillion-dollar graphite market.
In saying this, there is no question one of the main drivers of this growth is going to come from demand for batteries, for both personal devices like phones as well as larger batteries, needed by electric vehicles or home power storage systems. Either of these can require nearly 100 kilograms of graphite per unit.
This is definitely a market we are interested in. And the company has now set in place a development and testing roadmap that focuses on the lithium-ion battery vertical for our graphite product, as well as potential applications in other graphite markets.
It’s these other markets where huge demand for graphite currently exists. Largely driven by the steel industry, but also industries like lubricants and the automotive industry it’s very important for us not to become overly focused or commit on one vertical yet as the opportunities for our graphite to penetrate multiple markets at a significant cost advantage is very real.
What are the risks to the business and what have you put in place to overcome these?
Scale-up of the Hazer process is our number one priority. So far we have had no problems migrating the process up into new and bigger reactors, and our partnership with the Sydney University has really helped us in this, as they have top class facilities for this sort of scale up.
Early in the year we signed an agreement with chemical engineering group Kemplant, who are assisting us with our current scale up development and the design of our initial pilot plant to showcase the Hazer technology.
We are also de-risking the company through people. Recently we made the appointments of Dr Andrew Harris as a Non-Executive Director of the Company and Dr Andrew Minett as the Chairman of our newly created Science Advisory Committee. Both have significant expertise in process development, hydrogen production and new energy technologies and will assist with the further development of the Hazer Process.
What is in store for the future of Hazer?
We plan to harness this global shift towards sustainable clean energy alternatives by producing economically competitive ‘clean’ hydrogen and high-grade synthetic graphite with near-zero carbon dioxide emissions. We want to be part of this future.
Both these hydrogen and graphite markets present very significant opportunities for Hazer and we are confident our products can penetrate each vertical with impact. And this year we have started to tick some major boxes required for scale up and we are excited about what the future holds.
As I mentioned before, we have now set in place a development and testing roadmap that focuses on the lithium-ion battery vertical, as well as potential applications in other graphite markets. With additional characterisation testing currently underway, as well as further optimisation of reactor conditions, we hope to enhance the yield and quality of the graphite produced.
Work also continues towards the design and construction of a pilot plant that will be capable of producing hundreds of kilograms of combined hydrogen and graphite products per day. Given successful pilot plant demonstration that we expect will be achieved about two years from now, it’s then really a case of what avenue do we want to pursue in terms of commercialisation. We can construct own plant and sell the products ourselves, take on a partner or license the technology. It’s safe to say I’m very excited about the future of Hazer.
Where can our readers go to find out more?
You can head to our website http://www.hazergroup.com.au/
About Geoff Pocock
Geoff Pocock is the Founder of Hazer Group and has over 15 years experience in commercialisation, corporate finance and strategy. Geoff was previously Managing Partner of a successful mid tier strategy consulting business and has tertiary qualifications in Chemistry, Law and Applied Finance.
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