Heavy industries like trucking, construction, and manufacturing are some of the most significant users of fossil fuels. It’s common knowledge that these industries – among many others – contribute to the climate crisis and that sustainable transitions and changes are needed. The difficulty is that these industries play an essential role in our society, so we urgently need to find sustainable fuels that can power the industries we rely on.
Fortunately, sustainable fuel is the driving force of Azolla Hydrogen, an Alberta-based start-up led by President and CEO Jared Sayers (EMBA ’20). Azolla Hydrogen is making sustainable fuel adoption for the industry more approachable, transitioning businesses away from a default reliance on traditional fossil fuels and moving them toward hydrogen fuels that are clean and convenient.
When he launched Azolla Hydrogen, heavy industries were nothing new to Jared Sayers. He has more than 25 years of experience in the oil and gas sector, and a top priority has always been finding creative and emissions-reducing solutions.
Prior to Azolla Hydrogen, Sayers was the President and CEO of Red Flame Industries, a company specializing in pipeline hot taps. Hot taps are most often used when a pipeline is being expanded or modified. The alternative to hot-tapping a pipeline is to shut down the pipeline, meaning the resources flowing through that part of the line get released into the atmosphere. To prevent these emissions, hot taps utilize welding on existing lines that remain operational to create new branches of the line, which decrease emissions and save costs for producers.
Sayers has since moved on from Red Flame Industries but has taken his expertise, technical know-how, and passion for sustainable hydrogen fuel to a new level with Azolla Hydrogen.
Azolla Hydrogen’s mission is to accelerate the adoption of low-carbon fuels to displace the use of pollutants. They’re currently doing this through reliable hydrogen production on-site at the fuelling station.
Hydrogen is a clean fuel, but challenges related to distribution and transportation have prevented its widespread use. Hydrogen is a tiny molecule that can’t be easily transported through a pipeline, but Azolla Hydrogen is championing innovative technology that utilizes existing infrastructure.
Azolla Hydrogen’s “Biodrome” technology uses methanol and de-ionized water to generate hydrogen on-site where it is needed. Methanol is an effective carrier for hydrogen, making it easier to store, transport, and handle. More and more opportunities for sustainable bio-methanol are derived from feedstock like municipal solid waste and wood.
There are multiple applications for such hydrogen production. Still, the first step for Sayers and Azolla Hydrogen is to tackle the transportation industry: heavy haul trucks, buses, and vehicle fleets that return to base at the end of the day.
While most people are familiar with emissions-free electric vehicles, many don’t realize hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are another emissions-free alternative to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. Like electric vehicles, they have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine, but they run on hydrogen. The hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air to generate electricity from the fuel cell that powers the vehicle. Water vapour is the only by-product exhausted from a fuel cell vehicle tailpipe.
Adoption has been slow in parts of Canada, mainly due to a lack of infrastructure and an unreliable hydrogen supply. In California, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are more common, with nearly 12,000 cars on the road and 50 hydrogen stations, and these numbers are already straining the current hydrogen network infrastructure. With the help of reliable and on-site hydrogen production technology, Azolla Hydrogen will drive the mass adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as a more realistic option for all consumers.
This is just the beginning for Jared Sayers and Azolla Hydrogen. They recently launched a Mitacs-funded research project in partnership with Ivey. The research is investigating the implementation of bio-methanol-based hydrogen production networks, which would help the company further reduce emissions and accelerate sustainable transitions.
The potential applications of Azolla Hydrogen’s innovations are widespread, and Azolla Hydrogen will continue to expand these applications moving forward. Sayers believes the technology is ready, and we need to implement it with a sense of urgency. For this reason, his advice to others aspiring to be a part of sustainable change is to focus on progress, not perfection. “Sometimes we’re looking for the perfect solution; we already have a path to net-zero targets and negative carbon intensity - so why wait? Let’s make it happen.”