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Hydrogen Power

Green hydrogen gets a $750 million boost from the US Department of Energy

Baltimore’s Materic is 1 of 52 entities selected to scale up electrolyzers and fuel cells

by Craig Bettenhausen
March 25, 2024


A man in casual clothes holds a framed electron microscope image of a nonwoven fiber mesh.
Credit: Materic
Ronish Shrestha, lead project developer for Koyla Web at Materic, shows off an electron microscope image of the material, a nonwoven mesh of nanometer-scale carbon fibers.

The materials science start-up Materic was already planning a staff party on March 19 to celebrate the launch of Koyla Web, its nonwoven carbon nanofiber mesh. Then the news hit that the firm would get $10 million from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to take production of the material to commercial scale.

Materic’s expansion is 1 of 52 projects that will receive a total of $750 million to support the production and use of electrochemical hydrogen. The Joe Biden administration says the investment will give the US the annual capacity to make an additional 14 GW of fuel cells, 10 GW of electrolyzers, and 1.3 million metric tons of low-carbon hydrogen.

The funding selections are in six categories: electrolyzer manufacturing, electrolyzer component and supply chain development, advanced electrolyzer technologies, fuel cell manufacturing, fuel cell supply chain development, and the recovery and recycling of fuel cells and electrolyzers.

Materic’s project falls in the fuel cell supply chain bucket. Koyla Web is a gas-diffusion layer for fuel cells, meaning it controls the flow of mass and charge to keep the reaction of oxygen and hydrogen going in the right direction. The material conducts electricity, allows oxygen and hydrogen gas to pass through only one way, and does not allow liquid to pass through at all.

Materic is part of the Baltimore-based venture studio Early Charm Ventures, a sort of built-from-scratch high-tech manufacturing conglomerate. Ken Malone, executive officer of Early Charm, describes the DOE funding as transformative.

First, he says, it will let Materic “get into serious scale.” The firm now makes about 5,000 m2 of Koyla Web per year using a pair of custom roll-to-roll electrospinning and carbonization lines 0.5 m wide. With the money from the DOE, Materic will scale that up to 68,000 m2 per year in 2028 and 820,000 m2 by 2032.

Selection by the DOE also thrusts the firm into the energy materials market, Malone says, a diversification from its existing medical device and filtration markets. And it opens the opportunity for Materic and its sibling companies in Early Charm to develop other materials for fuel cells and electrolyzers.

Malone says the Biden administration is taking a smart approach by investing in the whole hydrogen value chain at once. “If the market already existed, the bank would lend me money to build,” he says. But because all the links have to reach the market simultaneously for any of them to work, a hydrogen economy needs the government “to prime the pump.”

The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated the DOE another $750 million in clean hydrogen scale-up funds. Industry watchers expect at least some of that second tranche to go toward nonelectrolytic hydrogen production, which could involve biomass fermentation and gasification, carbon capture, or methane pyrolysis.


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