Imitating nature: H2WIN’s innovative solution enables production of green hydrogen

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Philippe Lorge - H2WIN
Belgian GreenTech company H2WIN has developed H2GREEN: an ingenious system to make hydrogen production 100% renewable, more efficient, less expensive, and less energy consuming. Based in Nivelles, H2WIN drew inspiration from nature’s own ancient methods of generating energy: photosynthesis. The company is currently looking for funding to finance the next steps towards industrial-scale production.

Header image: Philippe Lorge, CEO of H2WIN

H2WIN’s story began in 1992, when founder and CEO Philippe Lorge attended the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. “Car producer Mazda presented its pioneering car on hydrogen, the MAZDA HR-X,” says Lorge. “I was very impressed by the potential of hydrogen as the fuel for a new industrial revolution. I also realized that I might make a difference in the production of hydrogen thanks to my knowledge of photosynthesis – the natural process by which plants convert sunlight and water into energy.”

To achieve this conversion, plants use special kinds of proteins called enzymes, a topic in which Lorge is a specialist. A doctor in physical chemistry and biochemistry, Lorge focused on enzymes already in his PhD and then used his expertise to establish his first company Bienca, developing enzymatic systems for food protection.

Drawing inspiration from nature

Today, 30 years after the first seed was sown in Rio, Lorge’s company H2WIN has developed the innovative H2GREEN solution. H2GREEN is an innovative system capable of producing solar hydrogen and green electricity using enzymes to initiate the process. Inspired by photosynthesis, the modern technology mimics nature’s own proven methods of producing energy.

“We have to be humble and learn from natural methods which have been showing excellent results for billions of years.” – Philippe Lorge

“I am also an admirer of nuclear fusion, for example, but we have to be humble and learn from natural methods which have been showing excellent results for billions of years,” says Lorge. “Of course, we need very technical strategies to adjust these natural methods according to our needs.” H2GREEN takes specific inspiration from cyanobacteria (more commonly known as blue-green algae), which have been photosynthesizing for billions of years. Based on the way these bacteria produce their enzymes, but using modern ‘genetic engineering’ techniques, H2WIN managed to manufacture the enzymes that are at the core of the H2GREEN system.

Fuel for industry

With this pioneering solution, Lorge hopes to set in motion a revolution in the way hydrogen is developed. Currently, more than 99% of the hydrogen used in sectors like the chemical industry and transport sector is produced from fossil energy (gas or coal) or non-renewable energy (electrolysis using electricity from diesel, coal, gas or nuclear energy). “Our solution, on the other hand, is 100% renewable, more efficient, less expensive and less energy consuming,” says Lorge.

“Ten years ago, there were many prejudices around hydrogen – people were often afraid of it and understood little of its potential.” – Philippe Lorge

Both the chemical industry and transport sector are logical target markets for H2WIN, but the array of potential applications is much broader. The H2GREEN technology could also be of crucial importance for the production of fertilizers, for example, or the storage of renewable energy and the capturing of CO2.

Partnering for future hydrogen production

H2WIN is not quite yet ready to launch H2GREEN on the market: the company will need at least another three years to develop the industrial-scale production of its enzymes. “To achieve this, we plan to collaborate with partners from the pharmaceutical industry. It’s an advantage to be based in Belgium, where so many leading pharmaceutical companies have a strong base.” H2WIN has already relied on the expertise of several academic partners in the country for the development of its system. “Our partnerships with the University of Liège and the Université libre de Bruxelles, among others, have been of crucial importance.”

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From its foundation in 2013, H2WIN received financial support of the Walloon government, while the European Commission also contributed. A notable name among its private investors is the Belgian Swenden family, the former shareholder of the leading European food group Vandemoortele. “But we have had private investors from all over the world, also from Taiwan, for example.” H2WIN has spent about 5 million euros since its founding. “To get ready for industrial production and commercialization, we will need 4 to 6 million euros more,” says Lorge. “We are currently looking for investors to raise this amount.”

Progress towards a greener future

Before founding the company H2WIN, Lorge had in 2011 already established H2life, a Public Interest Scientific Foundation which is dedicated to the promotion of the hydrogen economy. He has given numerous lectures at universities and conferences, to explain the advantages of hydrogen.

So, how much has changed in the decade since H2life was established? “The difference is enormous. Ten years ago, there were many prejudices around hydrogen – people were often afraid of it and understood little of its potential. There was also a lot less discussion about the problems created by pollution and the need for alternatives for fossil fuels. In my opinion, hydrogen is the ultimate solution for our energy challenges, and more and more people agree. Today, about all governments are investing in the hydrogen economy.”