Headquartered in Bend, Oregon, Element 1 Corp develops patented machines that convert liquid methanol (mixed with water) into high purity hydrogen (>99.995% hydrogen). The resulting intellectual property (patents, trade secrets, and know-how) is licensed to strategic partners with a strong position in manufacturing, marketing, and sales. The company is organized to include R&D, engineering (including mechanical and electrical design), prototype fabrication, testing, and software development.

Interview with Dave Edlund, Founder & CEO of Element 1 Corp.

Easy Engineering: What are the main areas of activity of the company?

Dave Edlund: First, Element 1 is focused on methanol-to-hydrogen generators. A necessary component of these hydrogen generators, independent of scale, is a hydrogen purification module. We have developed a unique and extremely compact membrane process that delivers high-purity hydrogen as the product gas. Continuing to improve the design of the hydrogen purifier to achieve performance increases and cost reductions is the second area of activity. And the third area is developing fully integrated, off-grid electrical power generators. These products include one or more methanol-to-hydrogen generators, one or more fuel cells, a battery bank, and associated power electronics, all packaged in an enclosure for outdoor installation, either stationary or mobile.

E.E: What’s the news about new products?

D.E: Development of three new products began in 2023 and will carry into this year. First is a larger-scale hydrogen generator rated to deliver 390 kg hydrogen per day with a footprint of less than 30 square feet and consuming less than 1 kW of electricity at full output. This represents a 65% increase in hydrogen output compared to our previously largest hydrogen generator and expands our product offering from 4.5 kg hydrogen per day to 390 kg hydrogen per day.

Second, we will begin offering our patented hydrogen purifier module as a standalone product for use in separating high-purity hydrogen from feed streams. Attractive features of the hydrogen purifier include compact size (less than 50 cubic feet for a capacity of about 400 kg hydrogen per day), the lack of any moving parts or required maintenance, and compatibility with water vapor and most common hydrogen impurities (such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide).

Third is the grid-independent, fully integrated electrical power generator. Think of this product as functionally equivalent to a diesel generator but without the harmful exhaust emissions from a diesel engine. The first commercial sale will be delivered to a European construction company and will comprise the hydrogen generator, fuel cell module, battery bank (for black start and load leveling), inverters, cooling module, and outdoor enclosure, with an automated operating system and packaged onto a 20-foot trailer for ease of mobility. The customer has specified 400 VAC, three phase, 50 Hz electrical output and the nominal power rating is 140 kW at the fuel cell. Later, this product line will be extended to include nominal electrical output of 250 kW and 500 kW.

E.E: What are the ranges of products?

D.E: Our hydrogen generators range in output from 4.5 kg hydrogen per day to 390 kg hydrogen per day. In all cases the hydrogen purity is >99.995% (dry basis) and meets ISO 14687 hydrogen purity requirements for direct use by fuel cells and for compression and dispensing onto fuel cell vehicles. Energy efficiency ranges from about 77% (LHV) for the smaller machines to 84% (LHV) for the largest hydrogen generators. Importantly, these products produce use a thermochemical process, not electrochemical, to deliver high-purity hydrogen. In fact, at maximum hydrogen output, the electricity requirement is 500x less than an electrolyzer, and our process requires less than half the water needed for electrolysis (a benefit in semi-arid regions).

Any model of hydrogen generator may be paired with fuel cells for delivery of electrical power. Alternatively, one or multiple hydrogen generators may be combined with hydrogen compression to build hydrogen refueling stations.

E.E: What is the state of the market where you are currently active?

D.E: Today, Element 1 and our licensing partners are primarily active in Europe and North America. Most commercial interest is in the grid-independent electrical power generator product line. Even in major cities, electrical power supply is limited. Infrastructure projects such as data centers, EV charging stations, and port expansions are frequently delayed or simply not possible because of insufficient power availability. The same can be said for rural and remote locations.

In these cases, water electrolysis to make hydrogen to feed to a fuel cell simply is not feasible due to the low overall energy efficiency of only 33% (LHV) for this cycle. In comparison, methanol-to-hydrogen plus a fuel cell will deliver about 45% (LHV) efficiency. Although this difference in energy efficiency may be easy to downplay, note that for the electrolyzer the energy loss is in the form of electricity (highest value form of energy) whereas for the methanol-to-hydrogen route the energy loss is in the form of low-value heat. 

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends?

D.E: Without a doubt the trend over the past two years has been a significant increase in commercial interest for hydrogen-based energy. We are experiencing a confluence of government and societal pressure, combined with private sector pull to transition now to a reduced-carbon energy infrastructure. This trend is expected to accelerate over the coming years.

However, for hydrogen to represent a substantial percentage of future energy consumption the cost of hydrogen at the point of use must be reduced to approximate parity with gasoline and diesel. Presently, in both North America and Europe hydrogen is sold at a price that is often at least 5x greater (or more) than the price of gasoline and diesel (normalized to energy content).

Hydrogen can be made from methanol at the point of use, today, at cost parity with gasoline and diesel. This is because the high costs associated with transporting either compressed or liquid hydrogen are completely avoided. Methanol is moved around the world today using tanker ships, rail cars, trucks, drums, and totes. The cost and difficulty of transporting methanol is no greater than for conventional liquid fuels.

E.E: What are the most innovative products marketed?

D.E: The methanol-to-hydrogen generator is a unique and innovative product. But the grid-independent electrical power generator, using one or more methanol-to-hydrogen generators plus fuel cell modules is even more innovative combining high energy efficiency and low (even negative) carbon emissions (using renewable methanol) in a footprint small enough to be transportable or even installed onboard small working boats (tug and push boats).

E.E: What estimations do you have for the beginning of 2024?

D.E: During the first half of 2024 the team at Element 1 will be working with our licensing partners to successfully engineer, build, and deploy the first commercial example of the grid-independent electrical power generator. We have a first-of-its-kind prototype power generator operating today at Element 1. This prototype system, rated at 140 kW electrical output at the fuel cell, and built within a ten-foot shipping container, has been an invaluable tool for demonstrating the potential of this new product line, as well as for refining the design.