Fredericton’s Nu:ionic Technologies has developed innovative gas conversion technology using the power of microwave energy. The company’s patent-pending Microwave Catalytic Reformer eliminates the need for combustion, replacing that process with clean electricity.

Nu:ionic launched in 2016 with founders Jan Boshoff, Jim Tranquilla, and Greg Caswell seeking to leverage their combined wealth of experience in the energy sector to help curb emissions. They began by collaborating with a University of New Brunswick (UNB) professor on bench-scale testing. In December 2019, the company closed on investment from ACOA and Toronto-based Valent Low Carbon Technologies, and by the end of 2020 had developed and built a pilot unit demonstrating its novel technology. A Series A funding round enabled Nu:ionic to next scale the technology for commercial use in fall 2022.

“It all started with three guys from different parts of the world collaborating around a common goal – using industrial microwave technology as a platform for lowering the world’s emissions,” says Boshoff, Nu:ionic’s CEO. “Fortunately, Jim’s significant experience combined with talent from UNB demonstrated the wealth of microwave technology expertise in Fredericton. In a few short years, we’ve managed to go from initial lab work at UNB to being ready for commercialization. ”

Teal hydrogen and emissions curbing

Nu:ionic’s reformers allow for on-site generation of teal hydrogen from natural gas or biogas. “Natural gas has had a huge impact on displacing coal and reducing global emissions,” says Boshoff. “Hydrogen was the first thing we tackled because it’s the easiest thing to produce from natural gas, and it also allows production of negative carbon hydrogen from renewable biogas.”

Hydrogen production is the first real-world application of Nu:ionic’s technology and 2023 will see the company bring that technology to market. “To achieve our net zero objectives, industry needs to keep its foot on the gas, developing renewable power infrastructure and large-scale green hydrogen production as quickly as possible,” notes Boshoff. “But we also need interim solutions that redeem the existing infrastructure, because we can’t simply wait for hydrogen to show up in our pipelines — those pathways aren’t built yet. That’s where we come in. We offer an opportunity to produce hydrogen in a clean, cost-effective way using existing energy infrastructure.”

Summit demonstrates opportunity for New Brunswick

Nu:ionic recently took part in multiple hydrogen-related activities during a trip to Europe, most notably the World Hydrogen Summit in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

“Export development is integral to the province’s continued growth,” says ONB Acting CEO Traci Simmons. “The Hydrogen Summit highlighted the many energy opportunities we have in export markets, and how our province and its innovative companies are well positioned to be part of the worldwide energy transition.”

The Summit, which drew over 11,000 attendees, put things in perspective for Boshoff and Nu:ionic. “There is real global support for this sector. And it’s not about if or even when, it’s about how do we get moving quicker on leveraging hydrogen to meet the climate-related targets we’ve set for ourselves,” he says. “The Netherlands is leading in hydrogen. They’re not only decarbonizing large parts of their own economy, but they’ve also positioned themselves to be a major supplier of that clean energy to the rest of Europe. They’re strengthening their position as a trading nation.”

Boshoff says New Brunswick is uniquely positioned to leverage this technology to become a bigger trading partner with several European jurisdictions. “I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing in New Brunswick. The recent announcement made by The Port of Belledune to export green hydrogen and ammonium to the Netherlands is excellent. The Government of New Brunswick is energy focused and fully understands the opportunity we have to be a large contributor to European markets both with regards to hydrogen and liquified natural gas. The resources are here, the energy expertise is here, the innovative thinking is here, and geography has us perfectly positioned to work with partners in Europe.

He also notes the province’s leadership role in small modular reactor (SMR) technology as another advantage. “We need low-carbon electricity as feedstock, so we’re excited about New Brunswick’s SMR developments. It’s a means of producing clean electricity that can supplement the intermittency of renewables.”

Support from New Brunswick partners

Boshoff says support from the province has helped get Nu:ionic to its current point by consistently connecting them with meaningful resources and learning opportunities. “ONB has supported us with everything from matchmaking, trade mission opportunities, coaching sessions, and more. Our contact Stephanie Savary has been a rockstar in the lead-up to the Hydrogen Summit. ONB and GNB understand the opportunity we have, the value of exporting this energy, and how important it is to promote Nu:ionic outside Canada.”

Local support has also come from the private sector, with Saint John-based Liberty Utilities coming on board as an early adopter. “Liberty is entrepreneurial in their thinking and committed to decarbonizing the gas grid for New Brunswickers in a responsible manner. We are working on a hydrogen-blending pilot project with Liberty, demonstrating how we produce hydrogen from natural gas. It will enable Liberty to capture the CO2 out of the natural gas before it gets burned and land replace a polluting fuel with a zero-emission one (clean hydrogen) in the gas grid.”

All this combined activity makes for the most compelling energy opportunity we’ve had in decades, and our company is thrilled to play a role in it.”

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