We are thrilled to announce our investment in Bspkl, a New Zealand-based deep-tech startup that uses semiconductor industry technology to produce a key component of hydrogen electrolysers much faster and cheaper.
Green hydrogen produced from renewable sources is poised to play a significant role in the decarbonisation of the economy, from long-distance transport to electricity storage. Several countries have set ambitious H2 production targets; multiple substantial projects have been announced in Australia, including Fortescue Future Industries’ $3bn Green Hydrogen Hub with local electrolyser production and the $22bn Asian Renewable Energy Hub.
However, these ambitious targets and increased adoption are exacerbating an already painful bottleneck: iridium availability. But, from deep within GNS Science, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute, this was a bottleneck Material Scientist Jerome Leveneur set out to uncork.
Today, we are pleased to share our latest investment from the Investible Climate Tech Fund in Bspkl's seed round. Alongside WNT Ventures, we are excited to be backing Jerome and his commercial co-founder, Christina Houlihan, in GNS Science's first startup.
Water electrolysis accounts for approximately 0.1% of global hydrogen production; however, this is expanding rapidly. Electrolyser capacity increased by 70% in 2021, and with a growing number of electrolyser projects underway, projections estimate global capacity could reach 1.1GW before 2023 (IEA Hydrogen report 2022)
Proton exchange membranes (PEMs) account for approximately 25% to 40% of all water electrolysis current capacity, with a likely increasing market share. One of the significant challenges with PEMs is bottlenecks in manufacturing one of the critical components: catalyst-coated membranes (CCM). Various catalyst application methods exist; however, most possess similar limitations through their impact on membrane viability or the amount of catalyst required.
Typically, CCMs are coated with a mix of iridium and platinum catalysts, which are in limited supply. As of the 4th of April, 2023, the price of Iridium is a whopping US$172,842.55 per kg, believed partly due to mining shortages and because much of the global iridium supply comes from South Africa and Russia. The demand for Iridium outstrips the supply.
Commercially minded founders
Jerome Leveneur, GNS Ion Beam Materials Scientist and now Chief Technical Officer of Bspkl, developed a new ion-beam sputtering technology deep with the research institute's laboratories. Jerome quickly identified its application in addressing the iridium bottleneck in hydrogen production. In fact, with Jerome's newly developed ion beam sputtering technology, he could reduce the amount of Iridium and Platinum required by a factor of 25-42x! As a further testament to Jerome's commercial mindset, he knew two things: this needed to be scalable from day one, and he needed to seek out a commercial co-founder.
In comes Christina Houlihan, a scientist at heart who made a move into IP and commercialisation. With a diverse and rich experience across several science commercialisation roles within NZ, Christina met Jerome while working at GNS in the Technology Transfer Office. After seeing the potential, Christina helped guide Jerome towards applying the technology to CCMs.
Low CAPEX and fast integration in mind
VCs often shy away from capital-intensive businesses; however, for Bspkl, the CAPEX requirement is surprisingly low. As membrane technology is small and high value, Bspkl can achieve significant revenue from manufacturing equipment they already own, which can fit into a shipping container.
In addition, b.spkl is combining this technology with a fast roll-to-roll manufacturing approach to enable much quicker production since the ion beam sputtering approach avoids lengthy and complicated ink-drying processes.
Lastly, there are virtually no switching costs for current electrolyser manufacturers to use Bspkl CCM in their production instead of incumbent CCMs.
We were captivated by the founders and their technology, and we are enthusiastic about joining the Bspkl team, and other investors, on the monumental journey ahead.