Innovation Interview: HySiLabs, a key link in the hydrogen’s value chain
The pursuit of a greener energy transition is one of the more urgent priorities our society has to achieve a more sustainable world. The European Commission is clear about this, and its ambitious objective consists of turning Europe into the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. But the question now is: how can we reach it?
HySiLabs believes in hydrogen’s role to help us accomplish this goal, and has developed a unique method that enables better transportation and storage of this chemical element.
Belén Moreno, Relationship Manager at HySiLabs, has met us to reveal all the details about this innovative project, their successful experience applying to EIC Accelerator and their future goals.
At HySiLabs, you realised hydrogen is an excellent option to allow a future low-carbon economy. Still, you found an existing disadvantage: its transportation and storage are not always easy. How did you come up with the idea of HydroSil? How were your beginnings?
HydroSil was discovered by chance at the labs of Aix-Marseille University. At first, this molecule did not have anything to do with hydrogen. The interest of Vincent Lôme, co-founder and CTO, brought hydrogen over the table as an energy carrier, despite its difficult transport and storage. Together with his associate, Pierre-Emmanuel Casanova, they decided to give this molecule a try on the market. They quickly identified the need for such an innovative product on the hydrogen value chain.
You have celebrated your sixth birthday lately, Joyeux Anniversaire! You have told us about your first steps, but how has your story continued? What have been your latest accomplishments?
Once the molecule was patented in 2018, the development of HySiLabs has not stopped. After winning the EIC Accelerator and some other financing instruments (we also got supported by Bpifrance), we started the path through our industrialisation and constructing a large-scale demonstrator of our technology by March 2022. In the meantime, we work day by day to improve and optimise our technology thanks to the ten job vacancies we opened.
Now you have mentioned Bpifrance, how is this organisation participating in the innovation ecosystem by boosting French entrepreneurs? How do you think the R&D sector is evolving in your location (Aix-en-Provence, France)?
R&D has always been a cornerstone of the development of our region. The regional institutions supported by Bpifrance help lots of innovative start-ups reach a first POC. Concerning the hydrogen sector, this support may help the whole region become a hub for this low-carbon carrier.
Your company name is related to several environmental and innovation references (to name a few, Incoplex Green Sud, Solar Impulse Efficient solution, Pays D’Aix Développement or the Ministère de la Transition Écologique). How important has it been to count on the support and advice from organisations like these?
When your product is innovative, it is sometimes difficult to make others see the revolution it may involve. Thanks to these well-known references, our solution is one step closer to success every day, even though the hydrogen value chain is still being deployed!
Value Chain. HySiLabs.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made things easy, and we all have learned to act and think differently. How was it for HySiLabs? In what ways has it made you stronger?
Remote working was definitely not easy: our chemists could not work on the labs, so our development got stuck. However, this made us realise that every minute of working together at the office is gold. Ever since we have optimised and improved our way of collaborating, we can proudly say that our development has been hugely accelerated in the last months.
Regarding hydrogen’s characteristics, could you please explain its role in achieving decarbonisation? How could this element help us to protect the environment?
When burnt, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, whereas hydrogen releases water vapour, so the first step of decarbonisation is from the hydrogen production by itself.
Compared to fossil fuels, hydrogen is a synthetic fuel. It is possible to synthesise it by combining only water and electricity (using electrolysers, a mature technology). Such electricity may be decarbonised, which would mean that hydrogen is a wholly decarbonised solution.
Talking about the importance of taking care of the environment, the EIC Accelerator Green Deal represents a concrete opportunity for initiatives like yours. How has the European Commission helped you to make HySiLabs a reality?
Indeed, the EIC Accelerator Green Deal helped us with the progress of our technology. Despite the health crisis, this European financing encouraged the next phase of our development, one step closer to commercialisation. By the end of the program, we shall get our product working and running. This has been the perfect boost to optimise our solution as the hydrogen carrier of tomorrow.
The EIC Accelerator Green Deal helped us with the progress of our technology. Despite the health crisis, this European financing encouraged the next phase of our development, one step closer to commercialisation.
Brussels’ pitch is one of the main milestones start-ups face when applying to EIC. In your case, it was even more challenging, as your pitch was remotely due to the pandemic. How was your experience? What would you advise someone in this situation?
Despite the context, our experience was pretty good. It was the first time of many situations in which we had left the human side aside. It helped us face all the challenges related to remote working.
As for advice for other startups in the same situation, we recommend preparing your pitch well, to leave nothing to chance. This lack of preparation used to be well solved by the human presence. As it is not the case anymore, the knowledge and passion of what you’re defending will drive you to success.
At Evolution, we are always glad to work with clients such as HySiLabs to develop a better world. How was your experience with us? Do you consider our cooperation eased your path to get funded?
Since we contacted Evolution, we have not regretted getting their advice a single day. Their support and experience helped us a lot when finding the right way to communicate the innovativeness of HydroSil. The daily advice they give us is also a very important part for us from this cooperation.
Let’s have a look at the future. What’s next in HySiLabs?
It is the beginning of everything for us! Thanks to the funding we got, we will deploy our product at an industrial scale and reach the pre-commercialisation phase. The world is getting ready for hydrogen deployment, and HySiLabs is here to push it and make it a success!
We are sure you will make that success possible very soon! For us, it was an absolute pleasure to work side by side with you to help you achieve a more sustainable world thanks to HydroSil. We wish you the best of luck!