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Clean energy with one push on a button

As young entrepreneurs, Max Aerts and Tijn Swinkels have a long time ahead of them to realize their life’s work: accelerating the transition to sustainable energy consumption with the use of hydrozine (“formic acid”). The point is: they don’t have that time. The innovators from Brabant are in a hurry because the world is urgently waiting for their clean generator.

At a little festival, quite a long row of generators is stomping through, running hundreds of liters of diesel through it. Diesel is one of the most polluting fuels that exist, but relatively cheap. At Max Aerts and Tijn Swinkels, that is a thorn in the eye, because society suffers for the uncomfortable consequences: health loss and environmental pollution with all its consequences.

They see a clean and easily applicable alternative: hydrozine, a safe fuel that can be produced sustainably from green electricity. That dream is represented in their shiny company brochure. A clean generator in a sleek anthracite-colored cabinet that does its job on a construction site in the middle of the city. Silent and without heavy fumes.

Hydrozine as an energy carrier
Their company DENS (Dutch Energy Solutions) will soon be presenting the first generator that generates electricity based on Hydrozine. It is the result of endless experimentation, daring to make mistakes, trying out new parts and continuing. The founders and their team members spend eighty hours a week on it. “But it doesn’t feel like work,” says Max. “This is the life from an adventurous boy’s book.”

It all started at the Eindhoven University of Technology, where as students they had a first model car driven in 2015 with Hydrozine as energy carrier. The technology was already there; but getting a car moving with this was completely new. “Really super cool to see our car driving”, Max remembers the feeling of triumph then. “It looks like you have invented a new fuel.”

Energy yield
The university gave them the opportunity to further develop the application of Hydrozine through an honors program and then in a student team. They won the sustainability prize in 2015 and received 5,000 euros to invest. With another 70 companies as sponsors, they were able to implement their idea on a larger scale with the student team FAST. With their second car, Team FAST managed to upscale the energy yield 42 times compared to their very first model car.

The media reported worldwide about the students trying to make a hole in the automotive universe. “We were the only ones in the world who had made it so big,” says Tijn.

Formic acid
Hydrozine is better known as formic acid, one of the oldest and simplest acids known to mankind. The acid is created by binding hydrogen to CO2. It is a liquid that can be refueled just like gasoline or diesel. In the car it is converted into CO2 and hydrogen.

It is the same substance that some ants use as a repellent, hence the name. But DENS does not do anything with ants, because their raw material can be produced from natural gas or biogas. Max and Tijn prefer to use the name Hydrozine as the name for their energy carrier, if it is (as is their intention) produced sustainably from green electricity.

Their machine converts Hydrozine to hydrogen. Hydrogen is clean, because it only leaves water vapor behind during combustion. But it is a highly flammable and explosive gas. To store this gas, you need expensive tanks that can withstand high pressure. By applying Hydrozine as an intermediary, the entrepreneurs want to overcome the disadvantages of hydrogen. Hydrozine is in fact liquid at room temperature, which means that it does not have to be transported in tanks under extremely high pressure. As an energy carrier, it is therefore safer, cheaper and easier to use than hydrogen.

Clean technology
The development of a car powered by Hydrozine proved too great a goal. They now see more music in a machine that stays in place: generators, excavators and other “heavy-duty applications.” “A car can drive to a gas station, but with a generator the fuel must be transported,” says Tijn. “And that makes a Hydrozine solution on construction sites or festivals much more logical.”

Construction company BAM Infra and other parties have since joined. “From a marketing point of view, the development of a Hydrozine generator is less sexy than a car,” says Max, who is responsible for the commercial part of the company. “But if generators are no longer fueled by diesel, it will be a major benefit for the environment. We have noticed that the world is waiting for this. “

Multidisciplinary
Now, through their start-up company, they are further developing their idea on the automotive campus, the site of the former DAF factory in Helmond. They use the former boiler house as a laboratory. Here are a few test set-ups, surrounded by tubes, installation keys and electrical wires. This is multidisciplinary work: chemistry, industrial design, electrical engineering, physics and mechanical engineering all in one.

The new Hydrozine generator scales up the energy yield even further compared to their previous version: 1000 times. Their biggest challenge is finding an economically viable model. “You can solve everything technically, as long as you continue to engineer,” says Tijn. “But our solution is currently even more expensive than diesel, especially now that we cannot yet produce on a large scale. In fact, we now have to create demand for our product. “

Their confidence in Hydrozine is no less. They feel that they hold a super-powerful key for the energy transition. As simple as possible for the user, namely with only one button. And with a liquid fuel, so that refueling is the same as with the known fossil fuels. That is important, they know. “Because getting a behavioral change done by the user is only difficult.”

Only in Brabant
They now have many contacts with suppliers and buyers. That helps enormously, says Max. “In East Brabant, we benefit from the presence of many other partners, from which we can get expertise, sponsorship, parts and other supplies. We can only do this in Brabant. “

They have also benefited enormously from the students of the Technical University who have voluntarily invested their time in this. Tijn: “We have been in the media a lot and receive full support from professors, TNO and other experts. We are world famous in these circles. “

Hydrogen economy
Without too much publicity, they have worked very hard in their laboratory in recent months on their generator, which converts Hydrozine into hydrogen. Now they feel the urge to show a large audience what is possible. “The hydrogen economy is not getting going,” say Max. “We can solve that problem, so the parking brake is released.”

Their kick? If the generator runs smoothly and the Hydrozine does its job, they will enjoy it to the fullest, together with the entire team. But they also want to provide visible proof to the world. “We are now really going to show what we have been calling for four years,” says the duo. “We don’t want to be the promise that we don’t deliver. When you innovate, you always have a process full of uncertainties. The development of something new always costs more time and money than you think in advance. Now we are going to prove that it is really possible. ”

They never thought they would ever get that far when they developed their first car at the university. “This is a life purpose, so we cannot be stopped,” says Max. “For us, every step is a milestone that gives new energy. We are creating something that is not yet available and that will benefit many people. “