Unlocking the Power of Hydrogen
Sep 25, 2019
Shell LiveWIRE alumnus HySiLabs recently signed a contract with Shell GameChanger to take their groundbreaking technology to the next level.
When it comes to the clean energy transition, hydrogen can be a gamechanger. It’s the most abundant element in the universe and when produced using renewable energy, it creates no greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s a significant barrier preventing its growth – transportation costs. Hydrogen is generally kept under high pressure in its gaseous form during transport and with its low density, it is too expensive to transport as a fuel alternative. That’s where HySiLabs comes in.
HySiLabs charges and releases hydrogen in a unique liquid carrier, making it safe and affordable for wide-scale transportation and use.
“This liquid is completely stable and non-toxic, and we can use the same logistical chain that already exists for conventional fuel,” said Pierre-Emmanuel Casanova, president and CEO of HySiLabs. He and scientific director Vincent Lome are the co-founders of HySiLabs. The idea is that rather than creating a whole new process to deliver hydrogen to customers, hydrogen would just replace liquid fuel. Energy companies could deliver hydrogen to gas stations using existing trucks, and then customers could pull in to their local fuel station and fill up their electric cars.
Pierre-Emmanuel and Vincent didn’t land on the transport angle immediately, however. Originally, their vision included the entire hydrogen development and sales process. However, when they shared their idea with Shell and other energy companies, they quickly learned that storage and transportation were a critical – and unmet – need.
“When you create a startup, you want to do everything, and you want to change the world immediately,” said Pierre-Emmanuel. “But we learned that if you want to have a real impact in the market, you need partners. And we knew that if we could facilitate the transportation, we could take part in the global energy transition.”
Those partners included the Shell LiveWIRE programme in France. HySiLabs' team joined the Shell LiveWIRE network in 2017. The Shell LiveWIRE team connected HySiLabs with four mentors who could advise them on strategy, technical approach, regulation, and industrialization. The Shell LiveWIRE mentor team also helped to guide the team towards a longer-term vision.
“When you’re a startup, you’re thinking short term,” said Pierre-Emmanuel. “But you need to think about the long-term future and where you fit in the market in 10 years. Shell has a very long-term view so it was good for us to think about what could be the future.”
And this learning wasn’t a one-way process according to Philippe Cracowski, a project manager with Shell France and one of HySiLabs’ mentors.
“I’ve coached HySiLabs for a year, especially on strategy,” he said. “HySiLabs' team is supporting a very promising technology that could be a gamechanger for the hydrogen market. It was full of learnings on both sides. Indeed, it was very exciting and refreshing to have the opportunity to engage with an entrepreneur driven by passion.”
In 2018, Pierre-Emmanuel competed in Shell LiveWIRE’s Top Ten Innovators Competition, a global competition that highlights and rewards LiveWIRE businesses that demonstrate excellence in innovation. He ended up winning the runner’s up award in the energy solutions category and taking home $10,000 in prize money.
“During the competition, I had the chance to discuss HySiLabs with Shell leadership,” he said. “In only two or three days, I learned an incredible amount about the market.”
When he returned to France, Pierre-Emmanuel used this knowledge to refine HySiLabs’ strategy and quickly began securing investment. In the months following the competition, HySiLabs secured 2.5M Euros.
As HySiLabs continued to evolve, they outgrew the Shell LiveWIRE programme, which tends to support earlier stage entrepreneurs. However, their relationship with Shell continues, and HySiLabs just signed a contract with Shell GameChanger.
Shell’s GameChanger programme works with start-ups and businesses on unproven early-stage ideas with the potential to impact the future of energy, providing companies with support, expertise and seed funding.
“Our programme is aimed to help companies accelerate relevant and potentially disruptive technologies to market, so that Shell can use and benefit from them,” said Catherine Smura from the Shell GameChanger team. “HySiLabs showed a good fit with the four criteria against which we assess companies: novelty, potential value, fit with Shell and team, so we were keen to pursue a collaboration with them, and now excited to see that being started.”
Shell GameChanger’s support isn’t limited to funding. The GameChanger programme will connect HySiLabs to relevant experts from across Shell to help them with de-risking critical aspects of the technology, in turn making the company more investible. It’s exactly this kind of non-financial support that Pierre-Emmanuel recommends aspiring entrepreneurs focus on.
“Your network is so important,” he said. “When you have people around you supporting you, then you can do anything.”