A west Auckland company, Aquagas, is setting the world on fire with its leading-edge hydrogen electrolysis technology, at the heart of which is a New Zealand-developed processor.
The central processor of Aquagas's units was developed as part of the Technology for Business Growth scheme in conjunction with the University of Auckland, and according to Aquagas's John Christian, it's a scheme worthy of applause.
"It's a business-run committee," says Christian. "It seems to be practical and it's heading in the right direction."
The company has benefited from several of these projects, including one that took the weight of its power unit from over 100kg to 20kg.
And while local IT savvy has benefited the project, now IT is getting a payback with the multimillion-dollar sale, against serious overseas competition, of 600 custom-built units to a large semiconductor manufacturer. The units will produce hydrogen gas for use in bonding, burning off release agents and numbering in an automated manufacturing plant.
According to Christian, the buyers, who cannot be named at present, were "stunned dead" to see the solution coming from New Zealand.
Aquagas has been working away quietly for three years to perfect its water to hydrogen equipment and is focusing at present on the gas welding market. The result is the $25,000 Aquagas 3.
Trevor Eagle, chairman of the company's board, says that a four-day trade show in Malaysia in July resulted in $20 million of sales, $14 million of which is to the Malaysian government. The company is in the process of expanding its joint-venture production facility in Malaysia.
The benefits of hydrogen over other welding fuels are many, according to Christian. It burns clean (water vapour is the only by-product) and produces clean welds; it burns very hot, enabling the bonding of virtually any metal to any other; it is comparatively fast; and with the Aquagas equipment hydrogen can be produced on-site, on-demand, meaning there is no need to store hazardous goods. Christian says it is also incredibly cheap, producing 63% savings on LPG and 81% on acetalyne.
Christian says the Internet has been an invaluable tool in keeping up with overseas research in the area of hydrogen use and production.
Aquagas is working on a hyrogen cooker project with China targeted as a major market and is also working towards using the gas as a vehicle fuel. Initially this will be aimed at replacing the polluting Asian tuk-tuk (a motorised tricycle) with a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle using a rotary engine--requiring no modification to burn the gas.
"We're not talking about guys in woodsheds," says Christian, referring to the persistent urban myths that have grown around rumoured hydrogen fuel projects. "This is science and we're doing it now."
Christian says the developed world, because of its committed infrastructures, may be the last to see the implementation of hydrogen as a fuel, but developing nations are interested in the technology now.
According to Trevor Eagle, negotiations are under way with a venture capital company to aid further expansion.