Steamology: Seizing the climate-smart power of hydrogen to deliver affordable energy for electricity and heat

Steamology aims to deliver scalable and modular solutions for industrial steam heat and power by embracing the hydrogen economy. It will eliminate emissions and thereby help foster the transition away from fossil fuels. The company operates at off-grid locations in sub-Saharan Africa where steam and electricity are created through renewable generation and hydrogen storage.

Energy Catalyst’s financial, strategic and business support has so far enabled Steamology to shape its business model and to identify potential off-grid energy storage and industrial applications. To provide traction to their business model, Energy Catalyst has also helped the company evaluate market opportunities in Kenya, their initial focus country due to its significant renewable and hydrogen potential. The lessons from their experience in Kenya will help the company move towards their longer-term objective of scaling up their business model across sub-Saharan Africa.

Energy Catalyst support has assisted Steamology and Strathmore University Sustainable Energy Research Centre (SERC) to identify further commercial opportunities for Steamology’s zero emission technology. Steamology delivers steam heat and power through scalable and modular products up to MW scale and this work has allowed the team to assess opportunities beyond mini-grids where net zero legislation may provide suitable beachhead markets.

Steamology’s ambition is to address steam, power and storage markets through our modular green hydrogen steam solutions, replacing fossil fuels, reducing emissions and paving the way towards a nascent green hydrogen economy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Matt Candy, CEO, Steamology 

The challenge

Most industries in off-grid regions of Kenya that require steam for industrial processes rely on unsustainable biomass or polluting heavy fuel oil to produce it. While the seasonal availability of biomass can constrain supply, the cost of heavy fuel oil boilers is also often too high for smaller-scale businesses with low steam requirements. Both of these technologies are detrimental to environment and health, whilst also imposing burdensome logistical constraints and excessive operational costs on industries.

One solution is for businesses and households in off-grid areas to rely on mini-grids and battery storage to produce steady electricity supply and back-up power. But battery lifetimes, costs and disposal considerations often make them unfeasible for use in these communities. Steamology’s ambition is to use renewables to generate power, which is converted and stored as hydrogen that can be used later to generate zero-carbon electricity. The company calls this technological process ‘power-to-hydrogen-to-steam’ and it tackles the cost, lifetime and disposal issues endemic to battery technologies.

The innovation

In sub-Saharan Africa, there is currently a lack of market and standards for the green hydrogen sector, and the costs and efficiency of existing electrolysers make it difficult to compete with more established energy storage technologies, including lead-acid and Li-ion batteries. With the objective of breaking down those barriers, Steamology has joined Energy Catalyst to demonstrate the potential of their technology to serve users across the region and to drive the adoption of standards for handling hydrogen and oxygen for energy systems in these countries.

Steamology is commercialising a novel technology to generate steam from a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gases that can then be used for energy generation and long-term storage. At the heart of the W2W (Water to Water) system is a compact, energy-dense steam generator. Solar PV electricity is used to power an electrolyser that generates hydrogen and oxygen from water, which is maintained in a closed loop ensuring recirculation. These gases are recombined in the Steamology generator to produce steam, which can be retrofitted to a wide range of existing industrial systems. With sufficient production scale, the pressurised gases can be stored in tanks to provide low-carbon energy storage and on-demand electricity supply through a turbine generator (10 kW to 1 MW) for off-grid systems such as mini-grids, powering not only local industries but also residential and commercial customers.

This innovation not only has the potential to provide clean and modular steam solutions for industrial heat and power applications, but by replacing incumbent use of biomass or heavy fuel oils, it will also bring substantial benefits on emissions and water pollution.

The opportunity

Green hydrogen is enjoying an unprecedented momentum and can have a major role in decarbonising energy in a range of applications, according to the International Energy Agency’s 2019 report The Future of Hydrogen. The costs of producing hydrogen from renewable energy sources could fall 30% by 2030, benefitting from technological advances and economies of scale, presenting an opportunity to decarbonise industrial and heat applications where other solutions are impractical or overly expensive.

Steamology also developed plans for a pilot installation in Kenya to test the viability of their business model, and prepared a technical training in operations and maintenance for their partner Strathmore University. A demonstration of the technology is scheduled for late 2021. Energy Catalyst also helped the company to navigate the existing regulations on the handling of hydrogen and oxygen in the target countries and advised Steamology on how to identify and engage with potential users to scale-up their technology. This support is helping Steamology to refine their business model and confirm the viability of Kenya as Steamology’s focus country.

In Kenya, the food and beverage sector has a high demand for steam, presenting a clear opportunity for Steamology. Specific target applications, such as tea drying or milk pasteurisation, could retrofit Steamology’s solution in their boiler systems to replace biomass and heavy fuel oil use, reducing both costs and emissions for industries.

In addition to industrial steam, Steamology’s technology also presents an opportunity to address the battery recycling challenge for mini-grid developers. The technology can replace lead-acid batteries in off-grid systems, given their lower efficiency and shorter life cycle in comparison to Li-ion batteries. This solution could be economically attractive for developers in systems with elevated and stable electricity demand, for instance productive activities in which a high share of the energy generated is used. Energy Catalyst’s modelling studies show that in the context of mini-grids with a utilisation factor of 80% (where 80% of the total energy produced is consumed), a capital cost reduction of 13% for Steamology’s technology would allow it to be economically competitive with lead-acid battery storage solutions for developers. Although lead-acid batteries are a poor choice from an environmental and waste perspective, they are currently cheaper than Li-ion batteries, so it is important that more eco-smart alternatives are able to reach a competitive price point. The target cost reduction for Steamology’s technology could be achieved either through increased production scale and/or through increased efficiency of electrolyser technologies. The project will demonstrate the viability of the solution, and the emissions and waste advantages of Steamology’s technology, with further environmental and cost benefits to be unlocked with its scale up.

Support from Energy Catalyst has been pivotal in helping Steamology identify the exciting business opportunities that could be leveraged by their innovation. “The market insights acquired through Energy Catalyst have allowed us to understand and validate the benefits that our ‘cradle-to-cradle’ power and storage solution can bring for off-grid and industrial users in African markets,” says Matt Candy, Steamology’s CEO.

Building on their project with Strathmore University, the company is looking to develop commercial partnerships with off-grid and industrial users in Kenya, to help them reduce costs and decarbonise their industrial processes. Energy Catalyst will continue to support the company in finding partnerships by facilitating introductions to key players, both in the target market and in the manufacturing supply chain. With such ambitious plans in place, Steamology expects the project will give a major boost to the development of the green hydrogen economy in Kenya, and sub-Saharan Africa as a whole in the near future, spreading the benefits of cheaper energy, enhanced access, more reliable supply and greater decarbonisation across the region.