I remember the first time I looked at a Hydrogen atom. Well, a theoretical picture of it in a textbook, that is. I remember just one general feeling that I had about it – It was beautiful. Simple, elegant, and destructively powerful.
As a side note: It’s no wonder that hydrogen’s atomic symbol was the chosen mark for one of the most creatively powerful and destructive superheroes of all time – Watchmen’s Mr. Manhattan.
That feeling that I had when I first stumbled upon the beauty of Hydrogen as a kid in science lab, has been, and continues to be, shared by the scientific community across the globe. The sheer versatility and power of Hydrogen made it an attractive candidate for fueling the future of human civilization. Scientists and engineers around the world feverishly started working on technologies that would help us harness the first truly renewable and clean source of energy. The race to be the first to solve the clean energy problem was intense and fascinating to watch. Consequently, in a relatively short amount of time, Hydrogen Fuel Cells were born.
Fuel cells are similar to batteries in that they produce electricity without combustion or emissions. Unlike batteries, fuel cells do not run down or need to recharge—as long as there’s a constant source of fuel and oxygen. The fuel in this case would be Hydrogen. There are also no pollutants emitted from the tailpipe—just water!
Sounds to good to be true?
Well, it was and it wasn’t. Fuel cells do work exactly the way described above – no sneaky terms and conditions hidden away in tiny fonts – but (I can literally hear you groan! Bear with me) the real problem was how to produce the hydrogen in a clean, renewable, and fossil-fuel-free manner. You see, the most economical way of producing that hydrogen was by using natural gas. A chemical reaction would break down the natural gas to produce hydrogen that would then be used as an input for the Fuel Cell. Not efficient. Not green enough. That, combined with the danger of transport/storage of hydrogen or natural gas tanks, meant that it was impractical for widespread use
And the dream of a 100% green future flickered away.
But wait, there’s more! In a recent (dramatic twist) I found out about a small startup called Trolysis (a play on the word Electrolysis) based out of California that says that they have found a way to produce the hydrogen without using fossil fuels! They claim that they mix aluminum and water to produce hydrogen which then fuels a PEM (Proton exchange membrane) fuel cell to produce electricity.
This statement was pulled off of their website – “Using our system is simple, even though it sounds like sci-fi. All you have to do is put in raw aluminum (like soda cans), fill the tank with water, and you can start producing clean electricity within three minutes.”
Yeah I know, I couldn’t believe it either! So I decided to reach out to their CEO – Josiah Nelson. We sat down and had a chat and this is what he had to say:
“At Trolysis, we’re trying to solve problems facing the energy industry and hasten the adoption of renewable energy. Our flagship product is a renewable energy generation system that runs on aluminum.
That may not sound exciting but imagine putting less that $5 of aluminum in the trunk of your Tesla and driving from San Francisco to Seattle without having to stop to recharge. We’re tackling problems ranging from keeping soldiers powered up in the field to making grids smarter, more reliable, and carbon neutral.”
– Josiah Nelson, CEO Trolysis
Hi Josiah! It’s great to finally meet you. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself to my readers.
Hey Tirthak, thanks for the invite and the opportunity. So I’m from Minneapolis originally but in my first year of high school, my family moved to a little town in South Georgia called Dublin. There was exactly as much culture shock as you would imagine.
After High school, I moved to North Georgia and in my second year of college I took a leap and moved to New York City to take a job as a negotiator for one of the biggest law firms in the country. Living in Manhattan was a crazy experience and I quickly went from juggling assignments and classes to going toe-to-toe with some of the best negotiators in the country. That was a very transitional time for me and though I’d started several companies before, it gave me the chops to become a real entrepreneur.
Oh wow! You’ve clearly made a lot of transitions in your life. How did you segue from being a negotiator at a law firm to founding a renewable energy company?
I’ve always had a passion for renewable energy and I’ve always loved solving tough challenges. The problem is, a lot of the problems facing the energy industry are huge and abstract and they take time to solve. I started Trolysis, the company, a year ago but I’ve been working on it for years.
Indeed, we definitely need more people working on the big Energy challenges of today. So how did you even start thinking about something like this?
The idea for Trolysis came in part from reading a paper in a scientific journal back in 2012. There was this cool aluminum reaction that academia had written off as a novelty because – though it had great potential – there were too many challenges to bring it to the mainstream. That idea caused a spark in me and I’ve been tackling those challenges one by one ever since. Once it got to the point where viability was within reach, I started Trolysis and brought on an exceptional team and we’re tackling new challenges every day.
Tell me about more about your company – Trolysis – what exactly do you do?
At Trolysis, we’re trying to solve problems facing the energy industry and hasten the adoption of renewable energy. Our flagship product is a renewable energy generation system that runs on aluminum. That may not sound exciting but imagine putting less that $5 of aluminum in the trunk of your Tesla and driving from San Francisco to Seattle without having to stop to recharge.
We’re tackling problems ranging from keeping soldiers powered up in the field to making grids smarter, more reliable and carbon neutral.
Our system uses one of the most abundant resources on earth – aluminum – and uses it to literally split the molecules of water into Hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is used to create electricity and the only emission is fresh, pure oxygen. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s real and it’s a giant leap forward for renewable energy.
Solar only produces when the sun is out and windmills only produce when the wind is blowing. The transient nature of these make them hard to predict which is a nightmare for grid operators. Our system can produce power at the flip of a switch and can run 24/7. This is a huge win for renewable energy.
That sounds fantastic! What are the next steps for Trolysis?
We’re working on a lot of things. We have an incredible team with backgrounds ranging from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Google, NASA, Fitbit and more. Without giving too much away, I’ll say we’re forming a lot of strategic partnerships to roll out our system in a wide range of applications. We’re also very lucky to have a following of really passionate people who are excited about what we’re doing and their energy and great ideas drive us forward every day.
That sounds great, thank you Josiah and I wish you and Trolysis the very best of luck.
“Our system uses one of the most abundant resources on earth – aluminum – and uses it to literally split the molecules of water into Hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is used to create electricity and the only emission is fresh, pure oxygen. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s real and it’s a giant leap forward for renewable energy.”
Trolysis may just be the next big thing in the Energy industry, or it may not. The important thing is that we need more bright young people like Josiah tirelessly working on the challenges of the future and coming up with bold new solutions. But I must say, if the Trolysis product works, its going to be a game-changer for the Energy industry and I for one am extremely excited to see how this pans out.