Saving fuel costs. Cutting emissions. No up-front costs.

No wonder Vancouver-based cleantech company Hydra Energy has caught the attention of commercial fleet operators all over the world.

Hydra Energy is a Vancouver-based cleantech company that retrofits conventional diesel engines to become dual-fuel systems that can run on both hydrogen fuel (internal combustion, not fuel cells) and gasoline and installs on-site re-fueling stations – connecting hydrogen supply and demand through their groundbreaking Hydrogen-as-a-Service (HaaS™) business model.

Simon Pickup is the founder and CEO of Hydra Energy, and an enthusiastic supporter of Foresight who shares our vision of British Columbia as a concentrated cluster of cleantech talent and innovation.

A Lightbulb Moment

The idea for Hydra Energy arose when Pickup was listening to a presentation about solar energy back in 2006. He realized that the hydrogen business was dealing with the exact same challenges and opportunities as solar: high capital costs to get started, but an enormous benefit once the technology was in use. That light bulb moment led him to identify his three biggest challenges: Could they get the hydrogen cheap enough to compete with conventional fuels like diesel and gasoline? Could they come up with a vehicle conversion kit inexpensive enough to subsidize on the basis of a long-term fuel contract? And could they generate enough demand?

What makes Hydra Energy stand out is not only their technology, but also that they were pioneers in ‘cracking the code’ of how to make hydrogen cheaper. They didn’t take a top-down approach to try to force their ideas and technological advancements out into an industry, but rather took a broader, more strategic approach through their Hydrogen-as-a-Service (HaaS™) model that eliminates the huge capital cost barrier that was hindering the rapid adoption of hydrogen energy.

Pickup credits Foresight with pointing him in the right direction early in the game: “our mentor asked us the right questions and encouraged us to think outside the box we had created for ourselves. They guided us to pivot our whole business toward what turned out to be a much better market fitfor us – commercial truck fleets”.

As Pickup said “one of the most surprising things about starting a cleantech business was that the incentives for the various players were not quite in alignment, and because of that, no one had integrated the various pieces on the technology chain. At the time we launched, no one had cracked the opportunity associated with making hydrogen cheaper – even though, in Canada alone, enough hydrogen is thrown away to power hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

A solution to our energy problems was right in front of us, it had just been too hard to see.

Breaking out of the Funding/Validation Loop

Once they were past the early growth stages of their business, Hydra continued with Foresight, and moved out of our Launch program and graduated into our Grow program in order to focus on expansion, funding and growth.

“Foresight helped us break out of that feedback loop where we couldn’t get the funding because we didn’t have external validation, but couldn’t pay for the external validation because we didn’t have the funding. They helped us build credibility, get funding and access a much broader network”, Pickup noted.

(Hydra received an Innovate BC Ignite Award for $300,000 to work with UBC, resulting in internal performance data being validated by a third party, which was essential to prove the benefits to Hydra’s commercial partners).

A Thriving Company in a Growing Industry

Hydra is a thriving company with a growing presence across the province – they’ve recently contracted as the hydrogen supplier for multiple Canadian chemical plants and are converting several commercial truck fleets to use bi-fuel engines and hydrogen fuel at a lower cost than diesel.

And not only is Hydra a growing company, they are operating in a promising industry with a bold future ahead. For the first time ever hydrogen fuel will be available below market rates for conventional fuel of ~$4/kg decades before conventional wisdom thought possible. (For example, the June 2019 International Energy Agency (IEA) report “The Future of Hydrogen”.)

And research suggests that scaling this born and tested in B.C. solution across the country would reduce Canada’s emissions by up to 6.5Mt in 2030: “These reductions are equivalent to reducing current national freight transport emissions by up to 12%”. (Navius Research)

As Foresight continues to be part of fostering and leading a surge in the cleantech industry in Western Canada, we are looking forward to seeing the part Hydra is sure to play in the future of the hydrogen industry in Canada.