Today we are brining you the interview with Daniel Benkhoff, who in 2021 with two other colleagues, Maurits Zevering and Fabian Schwenke, started working on the project Hydro2X, a start up dealing with research, development and enabling the energy transition through sustainable development and renewable energy.
Could you tell us about your educational background and how that led you to your current position?
Since early childhood science has fascinated me: how it enables us to reduce complex natural phenomena such as gravity into simple mathematical relationships and explain everything from the tiniest particle up to the infinity of our cosmos. Growing up and gradually understanding more and more of what is happening around me, I realized that still there are far more things that cannot be explained by natural science, especially how we interact with our planet as humanity and how we live together as society; how we build an economy, manage resources and create businesses.
Thus, when searching for an undergraduate programme, I decided for one in which I was able to obtain more knowledge about both science and business. I found this combination in the BSc. programme Industrial Engineering at the Technical University of Berlin.
Nevertheless, throughout my bachelor studies I realized that, rather than continuing with the status quo, I want to shape the future of business and be involved in finding new solutions and innovative ideas to tackle the challenges we are facing today.
That is why I chose the Master Program Science, Business & Innovation with the specification of Energy and Sustainability at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. Here the focus was on bridging the gap between novel technologies and the demand of the market through innovative concepts.
After obtaining my M.Sc. degree last summer and identifying some fundamental problems in our energy market together with a friend, we’ve decided to tackle these in an active approach and start our own company.
What sparked your initial interest for sustainability?
In my eyes sustainability is the only viable approach of pursuing unlimited possibilities with limited resources. What I mean by that is that I´ve always appreciated what humanity has been able to achieve throughout our history. Over the last 2000 years we have come from developing the first steam engine locomotive to reaching the moon and getting images of black-holes billions of light years away. While I was always amazed by these great achievements, growing up I’ve come to realize that they came with hidden costs of negative impacts on our planet. These effects are amplified by the growing world population and ever-increasing energy demands of new technologies. Humans, most of us at least, have reached a level of maturity where we are aware of these problems.
This shifted the focus from “Can it be done?” to “How can we do it best?” and the answer to that question is: In a sustainable way. This aspect has really sparked my personal interest in sustainability. If you wanted to be a brilliant inventor in the past it was enough to invent the car and you didn’t have to think of the implication of 4 billion people using your technology. Nowadays, if you want to create something that has a positive impact on the world you have to be aware of the wide impact, of the implication for the less fortunate and the next generations. But, if we can live in a sustainable way, it really shows the maturity of us humans as a species.
What was the main enabler of your business?
I would say it has been a mixture between three key aspects: timing, technology, and mindset.
In the transition to renewable energies, we have left the phase in which the technical and economic viability had to be established. We entered a new phase in which we’re looking at how to best connect them to our system which is still very much oriented towards fossil fuels like oil and gas. Finding a good alternative for these is challenging because of the required
properties of a sustainable alternative. Renewable energies are non-dispatchable because they depend on the wind to blow or the sun to shine. A sustainable energy carrier is needed.
This is where green hydrogen comes into play. It can replace fossil fuels in vehicles, decarbonize the steel industry and chemical sector and store renewable produced electricity.
We see that people are actually starting to take the climate crisis seriously, so they actively seek to invest in sustainable alternatives. In this new phase, science and politics agree that green hydrogen is needed for the energy transition. With the right timing and mindset we can change a lot, but of course all of this is enabled by the technological achievements
we made with fuel cells and electrolyzers. Producing green hydrogen is more efficient and easier than ever.
What would be the main advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen as a fuel?
Let’s start with the disadvantages. There is a lot of stigmas surrounding the safety of hydrogen as a fuel. While it is true that under the wrong circumstances it can be highly explosive it is not any less safe than the alternatives. Another current disadvantage is the limited availability of green hydrogen. As it is still getting traction, the supply has to keep up with the demand. Us and other companies are working to provide just that.
Now let’s get to the advantages. Green hydrogen provides a sustainable solution with the same applicability and performance as fossil fuels. That means not only can it be transported anywhere and the fueling time is similar, but it can also provide the same energy output and reach the same distances. In addition to that its only exhaustion is water. If you use the hydrogen in a fuel cell to power an electric engine it is by far more silent. It also performs well compared to other zero emission mobility solutions as it does not require scarce materials like batteries. The production process only requires water and green electricity, while the resulting byproduct is oxygen. The simple process also means the hydrogen can be produced anywhere, so there is no dependency from another country producing it.
Can you tell us about using hydrogen in the marine industry? Examples? Benefits? Hurdles?
Like many other sectors the marine industry makes use of a lot of fossil fuels. These need to be replaced and for that we need an innovative solution. Batteries for example are way too heavy.
Hydrogen on the other hand has a very high energy/mass quotient and also its other properties make it well suited, so the age of a hydrogen powered maritime could be ahead of us. There is already a self-sufficient hydrogen boat, which produces hydrogen out of seawater which is traveling around the oceans. While this is still a study project, first commercial hydrogen powered boats appear. Maybe most noticeable is the “Aqua”, a 360 feet yacht.
The biggest hurdle in this are legislation regarding the storage of the hydrogen. Limits on gas compression and space needed for the installations are making the use more complicated than it needs to be. With the further search for a sustainable solution the marine industry will get around considering hydrogen and the good thing about policy related barriers is; once they’re gone, everything moves very fast.