UK hydrogen technology player HiiROC has completed a £26 million ($34.6 million) investment round that received the backing of Centrica, Hyundai, Kia, HydrogenOne Capital Growth and Melrose Industries.

The new investors join the likes of Wintershall Dea and VNG as strategic investors in the turquoise hydrogen technology developer.

Are you missing out on ACCELERATE?
Gain valuable insight into the global oil and gas industry's energy transition from ACCELERATE, the free weekly newsletter from Upstream and Recharge.

HydrogenOne confirmed Monday it had invested £10 million in the turquoise hydrogen technology provider, giving it a minority equity stake in the company and the right to one board seat.

“We are delighted to invest in HiiROC,” said HydrogenOne chairman Simon Hogan.

“As we highlighted ahead of our recent IPO, Turquoise hydrogen is an area of high growth we are interested in, and HiiROC is a leader in this field. We are excited to work with HiiROC’s team and share our experience and expertise.”

Clean hydrogen at a cost comparable to SMR

HiiROC’s turquoise hydrogen technology converts biomethane, flare gas or natural gas into clean hydrogen and solid carbon as a by-product, known as carbon black, through an electrolysis process using thermal plasma. In the methane pyrolysis process, the natural gas is split into hydrogen and solid carbon at high temperatures.

In response to a request for further detail on HiiROC's thermal plasma electrolysis process, the company's chief executive Tim Davies explained to Upstream the plasma torches function by applying a strong electric field to a gas, such as methane, that forms the plasma.

"The electric field causes the molecule (in this example CH4) to dissociate into carbon and hydrogen ions (end electrons) which collectively constitute the plasma," he added.

"Any heat produced is a by-product of the electrolysis and not the driver of the reaction as is the case in pyrolysis. Crucially this is a very fast reaction thereby avoiding the back reaction and difficult to handle by-products (such as aromatics) that you get with pyrolysis."

HiiROC claims the process produces hydrogen at a comparable cost to steam methane reforming, but without the associated high carbon dioxide emissions, and uses only a fifth of the energy required by water electrolysis.

The hydrogen can then be used as a decarbonised energy source, while the carbon black by-product can be used as a valuable raw material in industry for applications ranging from tyres, building materials and as a soil enhancer.

HiiROC noted its technology had the added benefit of avoiding the emissions and pollution inherent in the predominant oil furnace manufacturing process of carbon black.

It claims its technology can be used in small scale applications, such as transport and heating, as well as on larger scale projects such as decarbonising gas-fired power stations and for hydrogen blending in gas networks.

“Our technology will produce low cost, zero emission hydrogen, delivered to customers on a modular, scalable basis at the point of demand,” HiiROC chief executive Tim Davies said.

“We are now very well positioned to move to commercialisation and look forward to contributing to the transition to the hydrogen economy and its role in achieving net zero (emissions).”

Pilot turquoise hydrogen projects

Wintershall and VNG recently revealed they intended to use the technology for a pilot turquoise hydrogen project in Germany that is anticipated to come online in 2023 and produce about 400 kilograms of hydrogen per day.

HiiROC’s technology is also being utilised in EPi’s biomethane pilot plant in Chelmsford, in the UK, and by Northern Gas Networks as part of its hydrogen programme.

HiiROC said the latest investment round would allow it to expand the deployment of pilot units into more customer segments, positioning the technology for future roll-out.

It will also utilise the additional funding to accelerate its technical development, broadening its application into areas such as low carbon synthetic fuels and mitigating gas flaring and venting to help meet global methane emission reduction goals.