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Shell, Chevron invest in B.C. clean-tech

Ionomr technology improves efficiency in green hydrogen production
Ionomr Innovations CEO Bill Haberlin with polymer film used to make proton and anion exchange membranes used in fuel cells and electrolyzers.

Two fossil fuel giants are helping to drive advancements in green hydrogen production through investments in a Vancouver clean-tech company that improved technology used in electrolyzers.

Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) are among the investors in a $19 million (US$15 million) series A funding of Ionomr Innovations Inc., a spinout from Simon Fraser University.

The investments are being made through their technology venture capital divisions, Shell Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures. Other investors in the series A round are clean-tech venture capital firms NGIF Cleantech Ventures, Pallasite Ventures and Belgium’s Finindus.

Ionomr’s central technology are anion and proton exchange membranes. Proton exchange membranes (PEM) are the central technology of hydrogen fuel cells, where an electrical current is generated through the combination of hydrogen and oxygen -- the only emissions being water vapour.

PEMs are also used, in reverse, in elecrolyzers that produce hydrogen from water and electricity.

Ionomr developed an anion exchange membrane (AEM) that eliminates the need for the iridium and platinum typically used in PEMs for the production of green hydrogen – i.e. hydrogen made from water and electricity.

Essentially, Ionomr developed a polymer material for PEM and AEM membranes that are considered to be more efficient.

Because of the expected demand for iridium in electrolyzers, iridium prices skyrocketed in 2021, from US$1,660 per ounce to more than US$6,000 per ounce, and currently sits at about US$4,000 per ounce. Platinum is currently priced at around US$1,000 per ounce.

Ionomr’s AEM technology eliminates the need for these costly metals.

“We offer what is a step-change in the fuel cell by providing a next generation material,” Ionomr CEO Bill Haberlin told BIV News. “We’re bringing a cutting edge technology to the marketplace to enable, for the first time, AEM electrolyzers. So we have a unique breakthrough material on our AEMs.

“AEM-based electrolyzers will allow us, by 2030, to get to a point where electrolyzers can be fueled at $300,000 U.S. per megawatt of installed base from the $1 million platform price today for that same megawatt installed base.”

"Ionomr has the potential to lower the cost and improve the performance of hydrogen electrolyzers and fuel cells, addressing key pain points of the hydrogen value chain,” said Barbara Burger, vice president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

A spinout from Simon Fraser University, Ionomr was founded in 2018. The recent Series A funding will help the company to scale up, Haberlin said.

“This is going to allow us to accelerate our time to marketplace, increase our R and D, increase our production readiness, and ensure that we have the capacity in place to enable the marketplace."

Ionomr operates out of a 7,000-square foot lab at the University of BC. The company started in 2018 with about half a dozen employees.

“Today we’re at 32, going towards 42 in the next 12 to 14 months,” Haberlin said.

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