Vancouver-based hydrogen tech firm to open facility here

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Vancouver’s Ionomr Innovations is set to open a research-and-development facility in the Rochester area, as a part of its green energy, hydrogen fuel cell project. The Rochester facility is expected to employ about 25 workers by the end of the year.

“When I say green hydrogen, that means we’re producing hydrogen from renewable sources of energy,” Ionomr CEO Bill Haberlin says. “When we’re producing our hydrogen, we’re using things like solar, and hydro, and wind, and tidal to create the hydrogen, and there’s no carbon during the production process.”

Founded in 2018, Ionomr develops and markets ion-exchange membrane and polymer products for clean technology solutions including fuel cells, hydrogen production, and other energy storage applications.

Hydrogen fuel cells, part of a process where hydrogen and oxygen molecules react to generate electricity and liquid water, is one form of renewable and transportable energy. 

Often, to create hydrogen for fuel cells, electricity is used in a process called electrolysis to separate the bonded hydrogen and oxygen in liquid water. While the process results in fuel for future energy, like electric batteries, if fossil fuels are used to generate the original electricity, it can take away from the green aspects of the technology, some experts say. 

Haberlin says access to renewable sources was part of the decision to open a hydrogen facility in Rochester, as hydroelectric generation from Niagara Falls in addition to regional solar and wind generation were attractive to Ionomr. The $2.7 million facility at 285 Metro Park in Henrietta is also supported by local and state economic growth programs.

Rochester’s workforce also was another reason for Ionomr to establish operations here. 

“Rochester has a long history in electrochemistry going back to the days of George Eastman and more recently in things like lithium cells and lithium batteries,” Haberlin says. “We’re excited about the human resources, the talents, the depth of intellectual talents that reside in Rochester to help accelerate our growth into the hydrogen space.”

The region is already home to several hydrogen energy technology companies including Plug Power and Hyzon Motors, fuel cell and transportation companies, respectively. In addition, firms around Buffalo are joining the hydrogen industry. Last year, Linde said it would invest $17 million in an electrolyzer plant at Niagara Falls to generate hydrogen renewably.

In practice, hydrogen is pumped in its gaseous form into a fuel tank, often on a vehicle. There the fuel cell uses a special membrane to take advantage of the energy released when hydrogen and oxygen bond to form water, resulting in electricity and liquid water. The vehicle operates similarly to an electric car except the motors are powered by the electricity generated by the fuel cell rather than the charge stored in electric batteries.

These fuel cells and specialized membranes are what Ionomr is focused on testing at the Rochester facility, as well as producing hydrogen. 

Ionomr is looking at transportation applications for its fuel cell technology, with emphasis on commercial, industrial, and heavy-duty transportation applications such as trucks, buses, aviation, maritime shipping and locomotives. 

Smaller passenger vehicles are possible in the future, but Haberlin says infrastructure like hydrogen refueling stations might need to come first.

“We’re excited about Rochester,” he says. “Rochester is going to be a phenomenal area for us to continue the expansion of our business and continue to grow and provide the planet with advanced ion exchange solutions that lead to the decarbonization of the planet.”

Colin Hawkins is a Rochester Beacon intern. He is a senior and journalism major at SUNY Oswego. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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