October 06, 2022 • Paul Rodden • Season: 2022 • Episode: SIS10
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Welcome to The Hydrogen Podcast!
Special Interview Series – David Jaramillo / Verne – In today’s interview I am joined by David Jaramillo to discuss a breakthrough in hydrogen storage solutions for trucking, maritime, and aviation. His company, Verne, is leading the charge on cry compression storage tanks that will effectively double the range of use for the hydrogen trucking industry while saving fleet operators money. Hydrogen storage doesn’t get the press it deserves and I thought I would bring you a company that has figured out a unique solution to help evolve the hydrogen economy. This is an important topic, and one that I hope everyone in the hydrogen industry pays attention to. Thanks for listening and as always, if you have feedback on this interview, please feel free to email me at email@example.com
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Paul Rodden 0:00
Hi, everyone. This is Paul Rodden. I want to welcome you back to the hydrogen podcast. So I’m very excited for today’s interview because today, I’m going to be interviewing David Jaramillo to discuss an exciting startup called Vern. Vern is developing high density and lightweight hydrogen storage systems for long haul trucks, they’ve come up with an interesting proposition to revolutionize hydrogen storage. And we think this could be a big deal moving forward. So with that being said, I’m going to cue up the theme song, and we’re going to dive right into the interview. So the big questions in the energy industry today are, how is hydrogen the primary driving force behind the evolution of energy? Where’s capital being deployed for hydrogen projects globally? And where are the best investment opportunities for early adopters who recognize the importance of hydrogen? I will address the critical issues and give you the information you need to deploy capital. Those are the questions that will unlock the potential of hydrogen. And this podcast will give you the answers. My name is Paul Rodden, and welcome to the hydrogen podcast. All right, welcome back. Today I’m joined by David Jaramillo, the co founder and CTO of Verne, as well as a Breakthrough Energy innovator fellow. He received his Bachelor of Arts in chemistry from Harvard University, and later graduated with a PhD from UC Berkeley. he co founded Verne in 2020, with the concept of building a high density, low cost hydrogen storage system to solve challenges and the heavy duty transportation sector and help transition to zero emission fuel cells. Welcome, David. It is great to have you on the podcast.
David Jaramillo 1:41
Thanks, Paul. Yeah, really excited to be here.
Paul Rodden 1:44
So tell us a little bit about your background. What led you to start, Verne, and what is your company? What is it that your company specializes in? I would also be interested to hearing about your work with Breakthrough Energy and how they’re helping you, if you wouldn’t mind touching on that a little bit.
David Jaramillo 2:01
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve always been passionate about long term bets, like as an undergrad was researching artificial photosynthesis or forms of energy storage. So it was always playing around with curiosity driven science versus applied driven science. And somewhere in the middle, and my PhD decided to go to a group that does a really great job of balancing basic science and applied science that was at UC Berkeley and Jeff Long’s group. And that was really great, because then I got to see how to kind of connect basic science to creating a product that could feasibly go out to the market. So it was during my time as a PhD student that I got exposed to the problems in hydrogen. So during that time, we were a lot of the work was funded by the DoE some great work on material based storage. And so with that, like I’m interested on what are the physical waste store hydrogen, how to material based storage, compare, and that sort of set the foundation for Verne. And one of the key aspects of it, I think, I’ve been really grateful to be part of many innovation ecosystems. One of the first ones was actually at Sanford energy ventures, a course with Dave Dennis and Joe Moxa. I took them linked up with other co founders now, Verne, that kind of helped us on the right path. One of the key one of the other key ecosystems was, of course, Breakthrough Energy Fellows Program. And that enabled me to really be able to take this leap of faith and go from academia, researcher to entrepreneur, something I had never done before. And I’m very grateful for that opportunity. Without breakthrough, it would have been very, very difficult to go from being a grad student and entrepreneur, and trying to raise the funding and get things going. So Breakthrough Energy is a broad ecosystem in which they’re very deliberate about addressing different value values of depth. And there’s there’s multiple ones depending on how you how you divvy it up. Breakthrough Energy fellows focuses on that early valley of depth from we have something great in the lab. Now we want to take it to a potential first commercial pilot, for example. And so they provide the resources and mentorship with financial resources and kind of the network for the two year program. And so with that graduated last year, part of Breakthrough Energy Fellows Program was able to work on full time and what we’re doing at Verne, we are developing cryo compressed hydrogen storage. So you can think of compressed hydrogen storage as a cold compressed gas, you get really high densities. And right now to kind of give you a sense of where we are, we are 14-15 person company, and we’re developing a few projects right now with potentially strong customers.
Paul Rodden 4:41
That’s fantastic, really interesting stuff to you. Usually on the show. We cover a lot of the major talking points in the hydrogen economy, but hydrogen storage in and of itself is a critical piece of that puzzle. And it doesn’t really get as much press as it should and That’s one of the reasons why I’m really glad to have you on the show today. Would you mind giving the audience kind of a brief overview on storing hydrogen, the different industries that different kind of technologies and techniques, and some of the industries that it’s working towards, like trucking, maritime, aviation, maybe discuss the differences that are out there? And what Verne is doing to steer the industry in a different direction with your technology?
David Jaramillo 5:26
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a that’s the critical question. So right now, there is a few very few established ways that are commercially available to store hydrogen. Most common one, when I imagine your audience is familiar with is compressed gas cylinders. So the most common is a tight for tall plastic, composite overwrapped pressure vessel developed in the early 2000s. A lot of work done here and the DoE funded in us. So it’s 700 Bar storage, we got a very high pressures to try and densify the hydrogen to get higher, higher molecules per unit volume per unit weight. So roughly for 700, parts storage, you’re about six, six and a half way percent, about 25 grams per liter. So that may not mean a lot some people but maybe means something to a few. Another way to think about it for those that maybe are in the battery space 700 Bar storage is about two kilowatt hours per kilogram. lithium ion battery is about point two kilowatt hours per kilogram. So it’s about 10X, better energy storage. So that’s 700 bar, you also have 350 bar that’s used and various applications. And the reasons for that is there’s kind of if you don’t need to maximize density, it’s easier to work at at this lower pressure, more reliable compressors, you can get different tanks that can be cheaper, etc. So So really, it’s dominated right now by just compressed hydrogen gas storage. One of the one that’s getting a lot of attention, but it’s currently not commercially available, is onboard. And I’m here I’m discussing everything available for onboard storage. Second one is liquid hydrogen. So there’s been a lot of momentum and various announcements where the industry is realizing 700 Bar storage is great for now, while we de-risk a lot of the infrastructure, fuel cells, but it doesn’t provide enough range. And so what the next kind of natural candidate is liquid hydrogen. So we’ve known how to how to liquefy hydrogen for it for decades how to store it, most of that’s been led by NASA and the US. And so the goal is, rather than have these massive spherical tanks that store liquid hydrogen is to make it onboard compact and put it on a truck. So with liquid hydrogen, you do get some benefits relative 700 bar, it’s a notably much higher density. So you’re able to maybe get up to about 10 weight percent, about 40 grams per liter. And we can talk discuss more of the more some of the issues later. But that sort of surprised some some context. And then Verne, what we’re doing is, as mentioned the top of the interview, you can think of it as the thermodynamic optimum for high density, low cost hydrogen, so it’s kind of really the sweet spot. So it’s both compressed, but not all the way to 700. Bar, and cold, but not all the way down at 20 Kelvin. So it’s really for example, about 70 to 80, Kelvin and 300 bar and the phase diagram, the hydrogen density, yeah, you have a massive uptick as you cool. And anything if you call further we think it’s kind of diminishing returns is really the kind of the best bang for your buck for hydrogen storage. So those are kind of some of the options that are out there are three options really talked about things that are most common for pure hydrogen storage. And within the different industries that that are thinking about this, I think the most common one where there’s much more momentum is trucking. So for example, on Hyundai has made more than 50 XCIENT’s operating Switzerland, there is now been some delivered in California, there’s there’s Kenworth and LA, and nearly all these are going to be using 700 bar, sometimes 350 bar. And the reason for that is typically it’s gonna be 700 bar, it’s compact, these trucks are going long range, so you kind of want to maximize it. Aviation… Aviation slightly different their gravimetric density is even more important. So you’re not really going to see 350 bar, I think you’re going to be 700 bar or even higher. And there’s discussions of even 850 bar to really grab better density there dominates. Airbus, for example is announced publicly liquid hydrogen. So it’s it’s maybe less of a cost premium and more just we need they need to have a certain parameter density. We also have technologies from aerospace also those trickled down to kind of commercial aviation. So there’s also announcements of liquid hydrogen tanks that are plastic, you can get very, very high densities. But something to keep in mind there is if you have great gravimetric density or you’re potentially giving up on cycle life, so maybe you can have something that’s 20 weight percent, but maybe that can only last 500 cycles, for example. And then lastly, maritime, the other big one that people are discussing. And I think pure hydrogen will play a big role there. So I think sea change out here and San Francisco should be the first commercial ferry and operation soon. And that’s, that’s compressed gas, they’re very likely though, for long distance cargo or for larger ships, it’s going to have to be a high density form. So that really is just liquid hydrogen, or Verne. And of course, the the main fuel that’s I think being discussed right now is ammonia. And so it’s not your hydrogen storage. But that does, from a storage perspective, you can get an increase in energy density, but it’s a trade off with the additional cost that’s required to convert hydrogen, nitrogen and make ammonia.
Paul Rodden 10:48
So that’s a really good explanation of kind of the different types of it. Can you briefly touch on some of the challenges and drawbacks to the liquid versus just the compressed technologies,
David Jaramillo 11:03
Ultimately, I think it comes down to capacity, cost and dealing with supply chain. So with with gaseous, the great things kind of the the that it offers is there’s technology available today, we have the tanks at scale, main main drawbacks, though with gaseous with 700 bar type for vessels is that it’s so just not enough range. So for example, with best best in class 700, bar tanks, you’re still 50% or lower range relative to diesel operations, for a fleet operator, that’s a huge sacrifice you have to make, and they’re still very expensive. So there’s a lot of carbon fiber required on these. And as you increase in pressure, let’s say from 350 bar to 700 bar, the amount of carbon fiber you need is doesn’t scale linearly, you actually might end up needing a lot more than you think. So that adds a huge cost aspect. So for today, roughly about 25% of a new hydrogen truck is due to the gaseous hydrogen storage, these tanks are very expensive. Now, what are the main main drawbacks for gaseous liquid overcomes one of those main drawbacks, namely the range, so you’re doubling, almost doubling the energy density there. But the main drawbacks with liquid or multiple, so one is liquefaction is very expensive. So it’s about from energy perspective, 13 to 14 kilowatt hours per kilogram, at a decent scale of 500 tonnes to 10 tonnes per day, roughly, that’s maybe around two to $3 per kilogram of hydrogen to the at pump cost. So it’s very expensive additional expenses. Supply chain is very limited for liquid hydrogen. So about about global capacity for liquefaction is around 300 to 400 tons per day, roughly at about point 1% of all hydrogen is liquefied. And so that it’s it’s there’s no liquefaction plants in some continents, for example. So it’s very limited supply chain, and very difficult to scale up these technologies are energy intensive, and make sense at massive scale. And so this is not easy to roll out and do in a decentralized fashion. The other main issue with liquid hydrogen on the onboard tank is your 20 Kelvin. So you’re going to deal with a lot of thermal management issues, and the main one is boil off. So your heat, you’re going to be heating up the tank, the tanks can hold pressure. So you have to vent the hydrogen oil off leaks, a lot of complexity, a lot of additional costs and thermal management’s overall very complex
David Jaramillo 11:03
I mean, that’s really great insight into the to current technologies and their drawbacks. You kind of mentioned earlier that the Verne technology is designed to minimize both of the deficiencies. Can you kind of dive in and elaborate on how it is that your system really overcomes all the deficiencies between liquefaction? And just compression?
David Jaramillo 14:06
Yeah, I think in the in the past, like the solutions are just based on what already established already knew. So we knew how compressed let’s just compress more with liquid you know how to liquefy when we just make onboard liquid, there never really was a need to develop crop compressed storage. So now there’s a new use case that’s onboard storage. So it is really kind of starting from a first principles what what makes sense from the beginning. And so ultimately, what crop compression with ferns crop compression offers is you’re getting that liquid like densities. So the question we were asking is how else can we get liquid like densities without going through liquefaction. And that’s kind of what we mentioned looking at the phase diagram, you can effectively just compress and cool into the sweet spot and you get all the benefit there. So you’re getting the liquid like densities without the liquid challenges. So for example, there’s no no boil off issues here the tanks are compressed, so they’re gonna be cold so he will be going to the tanks that will pressurize tanks. But these things are pressure tanks so they can hold on to the pressure so they don’t have to vent as readily as a liquid hydrogen tank. So that’s one of the main benefits effectively high density hydrogen without a lot of the liquid challenges. The other really important one is supply flexibility. So you can get into the crowd compressed date, either through a liquid hydrogen supply chain supply network, and effectively it’s liquid hydrogen gets delivered at the refueling station, you can then use a commercially available hydrogen cryo pump and directly put it in our tanks. So that’s the other exciting way to do it. And then whether it makes sense is to capitalize with all the massive deployment is going to happen with electrolysis is you can go gaseous to cryo-compress at small scale. So effectively, you can just conceptually think of this as you can have on site production or delivery of gaseous hydrogen, you can then just compress it and cool two separate steps, and then fill. So there’s two different ways to get this high density hydrogen. So you have that supply flexibility, and that one tank can accommodate both. So you could go to one station in South California, for example, that uses liquid to get to crop and press, that’s fine, you go up somewhere else, and it goes gashes to cryo-compress doesn’t matter how it got how it got there, as long as it’s cryo-compress, it can fill in our tanks. And then the last main one related to this gaseous to cryo-compress route is it’s much higher efficiency. So relative to liquefaction, which as I mentioned before, is about 13-14 kilowatt hours per kilogram, this step of just compressing and cooling is about half of that, because you don’t need to go to 20 Kelvin, and you’re just compressing to lower pressures. So it’s with all those reasons that you get all these benefits and ultimately comes down to having a how that drives down the green premium and how that affects the total cost of ownership for for truck fleet operators.
Paul Rodden 16:55
That’s awesome. It really is a beautiful technology, how you’re looking into just marrying up the two and getting the benefits of both. And you kind of alluded to this next question a little bit. But I’m sure you’ve already envisioned the end users for your technology, and how they’re going to get that hydrogen solution and how they’re going to go with this solution to start decarbonizing their fleet. So what is how are you envisioning that that end user right now?
David Jaramillo 17:29
Yeah, so the end user, right now we envision kind of go to market would be starting off with return to base fleet operators, more broadly, fleet operators of heavy duty trucks, we also technology will also make sense for aviation and shipping certain segments of those markets. But we’re really right now focus on the truck fleets, and we’re the payment we’re solving for those users is we’re going to drive down that green premium for them for them to have the lowest total cost of ownership. And in particular, what really makes it more sense for us is to start with private fleet operators that have returned to base operations initially, that way, it’s minimal upfront additional capital that’s required, instead of two refueling stations, we just put one. And the other aspect to it is there’s also fleet operators, like the Amazons and Walmarts of the world that will have a warehouse and already have hydrogen there for their goals. So there’s already high utilization of a hydrogen infrastructure. So we’re targeting those as best kind of initial way to get into the market. So you already have a hydrogen supply contract of some sort, if they already have fuel cells and hydrogen delivered. So then we can start off with retrofitting or upgrading some small percentage of the trucks to be cryo-compressed hydrogen trucks, and initially kind of keep increasing from there, since we already have kind of a foothold into that operation. But generally, that’s how reviewing things and that will ultimately start to drive down that total cost of ownership for the fleet operator.
Paul Rodden 19:02
Very cool, just from the talks that you and I have had. I mean, I think that’s going to be a home run. I really do. I don’t see any other way around it. I appreciate some of the information you’ve given on some of the economics and how your technology is going to help the economics of the hydrogen industry. If we’re going to kind of change that a little bit and focus in on Verne itself. What stage is your company in? Are you currently developing prototypes? Are you in a seed round phase? Are you looking for capital? What Where are you at right now?
David Jaramillo 19:33
Yeah, so a few things so on the technology side, so with with Breakthrough Energy Fellows Program, the goal is is its two year program, where you think carefully about what are the high technical risks and be mitigated so that by the end of the program, you’ve mitigated those and are ready for a commercial pilot commercial demonstration or VC funding and to really start to scale up. So we’re on track for one year through the program, we’ve made substantial derisking on the storage side and the refueling side more on the storage side, however. And so for example, we’ve already we’ve test prototype tank store over 10 kilograms of compressed hydrogen demonstrates some of those metrics with the National Lab. We also have we’re working on with a few few companies on on demonstrations, including getting to a vehicle demonstration sometime next year. And one big milestone that we’re working on should we complete over the next few months is developing our first MVP that we’re thinking of as system for backup cap for back of a cab for class eight trucks, you can store over 100 kilograms of hydrogen. So we’re effectively doubling what you can store today, doubling the range effectively. So one of the key milestones for us and a key part of this stage we’re at is having that MVP built, and then ready for testing. So that’s on the on the technology side prototyping side, we have empirical data on the financial side, we raise a seed earlier this year. So that was participation from Amazon climate pledge fund, Caterpillar, VC, and collaborative fund are really fantastic leading investors. So one of the main milestones for us now is after we built this MVP system, do some testing on on a few more prototypes, and derisk. A few more things on the refueling side as part of the Bernie Fellows Program, and towards the end of the fellowship, prepare to raise our a round.
Paul Rodden 21:22
That’s fantastic. Congratulations on your initial success. So far, it sounds like you’ve really got your tech your numbers are dialed in. To talk a little bit about some of the next steps. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? You know, what’s, what is the future look like for Verne?
David Jaramillo 21:39
Yeah, one of those is, I think continuing full steam ahead on the storage side. So that means getting on ultimately working towards a commercial pilot 2024 time period. But also with that, showcasing the full full solution, a full ecosystem of cryo compression. So that’s where we want to show around refueling equipment, refueling cryo compressed storage tank that’s on a Class A truck. So that demonstrating the full value proposition that Verne offers this full system solution for fleet operators. So that’d be a big milestone for us. And something we’re working towards kind of in our growth strategy, kind of looking beyond that is, of course, signing on large customers, and then preparing for scale up manufacturing, by 2520 26 time period, dissipate that in the 2026 time period, there’ll be now 1000s 1000s of fuel cell trucks on the road and then Verne we’ll have some percentage of that on the road. So right now we have less less than 1000 Total trucks on the road, depending on what kind of reports you follow. But in Europe, for example, there’s probably maybe 100 trucks on the road in the order of 10s. Right now in California. So it’s still early days. But by 2026, I think we’ll start to see 1000s. And so we want to be in a position to then by the time that starts to be rolled out, really when kind of the first step in commercializing and initialization of hydrogen for trucks occurs. We want to be in a position for Verne to be scaling up and be tapping into that growth.
Paul Rodden 23:11
I think your numbers are right on with the with your estimation, you know, a couple of years ago it was it’s gonna be in the 2030s. And now I think you’re right, I think we’re going to be seeing 1000s of them within the next two to three years, four years, somethinglike that.
David Jaramillo 23:27
Paul Rodden 23:28
Let’s kind of take a little bit of a step away from that. And something that we like to talk about with our guests on the show. I’m curious to hear what what you envision the hydrogen infrastructure looking like in the future. You’ve talked about what you think Verne is going to play, but kind of the bigger picture, what do you how do you see the hydrogen infrastructure economy market developing?
David Jaramillo 23:53
Yeah, I think it’s going to be not fully, definitely not a centralized infrastructure and not fully decentralized, but we see a mix, and there’ll be a substantial kind of mix for more kind of decentralized, maybe citygate, or bit more decentralized in that. So I think we’ll we’ll see a lot more of onsite electrolysis, or kind of located at certain strategic locations. And so having the ability to have energy efficient, decentralized systems will be very important. So that’s, for example, Vernes Cryo-compressor, where instead of having a liquefaction plant, which would have to have a massive scale, instead, you can start to make that work wherever you have, at a certain scale, smaller scale, have electrolysis, so we definitely see a bit more of a decentralized rollout. And I think we are probably what most people would agree with and with your audience, I think trucks will really help lead the way or hydrogen, heavy duty trucks, kind of the middle mile delivery sort of long haul trucks. And that’ll be really crucial to bringing down the green premium. I think we’ll also see a lot of targeting of high utilization or hydrogen hubs or something. I think also your audience would, would it With whether it’s at a port big hub, or whether it’s what we discussed briefly, it’s kind of a smaller scale hub concept, where it’s at a warehouse and you have forklifts, you have hydrogen delivered just to drive high utilization. It is all very expensive high capital equipment we need to drive high high utilization from beginning. Yeah, I think that that’s obviously the rollout. And I think at a high level, Verne’s role is we have all these great projections they’re based on, some of them are based on kind of some new emerging technologies. But those don’t really take into account what a lot of kind of the latest innovation or startups are doing. And so what we hope Verne’s role will be is to actually because we can really double the range change the economics, lower total cost of ownership is to bring bring earlier when cost parity occurs with diesel and many places of the world for fleet operators.
Paul Rodden 25:50
I think you’re dead on. I love it. I love hearing people that have seen similar thoughts, as I do, that’s awesome and everything. All right. Well, this has been a great conversation, David, I really appreciate it. I enjoyed it really, you’re kind of opening up that that box to all the listeners on compression, hydrogen compression storage, crowd compression, where that’s going in the future. And you know, really a lot of the economics surrounding those different technologies and where your company or Verne is coming in to fill in the gap between the two, and really making that that best of all case scenario with your technology. Again, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
David Jaramillo 26:35
Yeah, thank you, Paul. This is great questions. It was fun speaking with you. And for anyone else interested feel free to follow our journey at Vernh2.com. You can reach out to me through there. And also you can follow me on on Twitter. If you want to chat about hydrogen trucks or the breakthrough and you fellows program. My Twitter handle is just twitter.com and then it’s Davestkar.
Paul Rodden 26:58
Fantastic. Thank you. Alright, everyone. If you enjoyed listening to David’s info on his company, Verne and how they’re changing. Like David said, you can check out their website at www.verneh2.com to learn more. Thanks again. I hope you all have a great day. Take care. Hey, this is Paul. I hope you liked this podcast. If you did and want to hear more. I’d appreciate it if you would either subscribe to this channel on YouTube, or connect with your favorite platform through my website at www.thehydrogenpodcast.com. Thanks for listening. I very much appreciate it. Have a great day.