Versogen reaches membrane production milestone
NEWARK – Versogen, a startup firm that is working on a groundbreaking membrane used in the production of clean hydrogen, recently achieved a significant production milestone.
The firm, which grew out of research by University of Delaware professor Yushan Yan and today is based at leased labs at the FMC Stine Research Center in Newark, recently reached a production threshold of enough PiperION, a proprietary anion-exchange membrane polymer, to produce 1 gigawatt of energy per year.
It’s an important milestone because researchers have increasingly come to believe that hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, could be a carbon-free fuel source of the future, powering commercial vehicles, ships and industrial manufacturing plants without harming the environment. For that to happen, however, the production of hydrogen through the splitting of water molecules in a process known as electrolysis would need to become more efficient, and a nationwide distribution network would need to be established.
Versogen’s cellophane-like material that separates the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water through electrolyzers has proven to be sought-after throughout industries. While the development of anion-exchange membranes (AEM) is still evolving compared to more established proton-exchange membrane (PEM), the former can avoid expensive materials like platinum-group metal catalysts. That would ultimately make clean hydrogen production cheaper for producers.
“At the foundational level, the polymer has to be good, and we accomplished that several years ago. But if you don’t have consistent quality and larger-scale availability, nobody can really try to take advantage of it,” Yan, who serves as Versogen’s CEO, told Delaware Business Times. “Now we’ve accomplished that as well … and the bottleneck is no longer in membrane production.”
Customers are using Versogen’s membrane to produce clean hydrogen as well as in carbon capture, seawater electrolysis, fuel cells and lithium extraction.
After several years of largely producing the membrane for customers, however, Versogen is increasingly turning toward building its own electrolyzer stacks. It aims to complete its electrolyzer stack unit prototype in 2024, when it would then test its efficiency, and if successful, seek to raise a Series B round to begin manufacturing of additional units. It raised $14.5 million in its Series A fundraising last year.
The firm currently employs 40 people and Yan believes they will hire another 60 in the next year, depending on the availability of workforce.
He also expects Versogen to take advantage of the $750 million to be invested in the region’s advancement of clean hydrogen production through the federal H2Hubs program as a founding partner in the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2).
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has set a “hydrogen shot” goal of lowering clean hydrogen cost by 80% to $1 per 1 kilogram in one decade. To advance toward that goal, the Biden administration dedicated up to $7 billion toward the development of regional clean hydrogen hubs, where industry and research universities would expand work on clean hydrogen fuel. This year, DOE selected seven hubs for federal investment, with MACH2 being the only hub in the Northeast.
Yan has been at the forefront of that proposal, both as CEO of Versogen, but also as the founding director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Clean Hydrogen, a research-and-development project that has partnered with Chemours and other for-profit companies.