In the not-too distant future, it could become common practice to head out to the local waste processing facility to fill up your vehicle – and the fuel will be hydrogen rather than gasoline or diesel, according to Ways2H CEO and co-founder Jean Louis Kindler.
Instead of looking for the familiar oil company brands common to most filling stations, the refueling site might be denoted by something that resembles a "blue tower," he told S&P Global Platts in an interview.
The blue towers will be the facilities that convert waste biomass into renewable hydrogen via a thermochemical process. California-based Ways2H is promoting and building the systems, using technology that has been largely developed by one of its strategic partners, Japan Blue Energy.
The company says its process is carbon negative "when paired with carbon capture and storage or utilization."
Kindler told Platts the company is in the process of installing its system at a waste water treatment plant in Tokyo, "where we will demonstrate the technology's capacity to process sewage sludge into net zero-carbon hydrogen."
Another facility is being built in California and the company expects to announce "two or three commercial projects" within the year, he added.
Kindler said the big opportunity in the US was coming from waste processing companies that are finding it increasingly challenging to dispose of waste due to public antipathy towards landfill sites and incineration because of pollution concerns. The problem has been compounded by China's decision to ban waste imports in 2018.
According to information on Ways2H's website, the solid waste management market is worth around $400 billion and is projected to reach $2.5 trillion by 2050.
"Most companies in North America are motivated by the need to process waste; they call us because they have waste they need to do something with. European companies call us because they want to produce renewable hydrogen," Kindler said, speaking from Los Angeles via Zoom.
He said waste to hydrogen systems are generally small to medium scale in size, so can be built near waste production sites and eliminate a lot of the logistics prevalent in the waste processing industry. The systems can also consume any type of waste other than metal and glass.
"We use feedstock like municipal solid waste, mixes of plastic, rubber, and we can take medical waste. Anything that basically contains carbon and hydrogen will be processed in our system and we use the carbon in the feedstock as the energy source to extract the hydrogen – so this really is a hydrogen extraction machine," he said.
In terms of the application for the system, Kindler said the obvious market would be transportation, in the form of renewable hydrogen for clean mobility.
"Hydrogen can be produced on site and can be compressed and sold on site as a hydrogen filling station. This is more for the general public as we're talking about municipal waste, so the hydrogen can be used as a fuel for passenger vehicles. But we can adapt the model to more industrial applications, such as steel and metals processing," he said.
Looking at the development of the hydrogen industry as a whole, Kindler said he espouses a "horses for courses" approach.
"As we switch from an oil and fossil-based economy to a renewables-based economy, instead of just having oil or coal or natural gas, we will have different sources of energy that will be implemented because they make sense in a certain environment," Kindler said.
"Our system makes sense in an area where there is a relatively high population, and where there is not enough sun or wind to power electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen that way," he added.