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Estonian CleanTech PowerUP patches the world’s widening electricity gaps with hydrogen fuel cells

The world’s ageing power grid is at its limits, leaving millions vulnerable to blackouts. Hydrogen fuel is to the rescue, says Estonian CleanTech innovator PowerUP.

The power grid is failing. This can be attributed to a perfect storm of multiple factors adding up: Overconsumption, increasing electrification, natural disasters linked to climate change, as well as irregular pricing, grid disruptions, and supply fluctuations caused by renewable energy sources like solar power during sunny periods. Recent geopolitical developments like the war in Ukraine have also significantly impacted the energy sector and will continue to do so.

As a result of all of this, modern power systems are operating near critical conditions and leaving an increasingly electricity-reliant world vulnerable. Fully updating a whole planet’s worth of infrastructure is a monumental task, so having a solid backup plan is crucial.

Estonian-founded CleanTech company PowerUP is bridging this electricity gap with hydrogen-based power sources—electricity generators and battery capacity extenders—that make green energy more accessible. The company’s generators, based on proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, provide reliable and environment-friendly energy by converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and leaving nothing but water as a byproduct.

Swooping in where existing solutions fail

“Of course, there are solutions on the market already that address these problems,” says PowerUP’s Head of PR and Marketing Helen Hendrikson. “Battery packs and diesel generators, for example. But both of them fall short. Diesel generators pollute the air, are noisy, can’t be used indoors, and need a lot of maintenance. Batteries alone aren’t enough. They tend to get really big and expensive and have long recharge times.”

When PowerUP says that their solutions can do a lot more for less, they mean that literally—their capacity extenders can double the lifetime of battery packs while significantly decreasing the size of the battery system and providing a whole new level of portability.

Designed to be market-agnostic, these solutions can be used across vastly diverse industries and segments, from defence and military to telcos and clinics, to name a few.

Even though there are barely any market limitations, PowerUP has identified the telecommunications industry as a logical stepping stone. According to Rethink Technology Research, fifty-five percent of Tier 1 telecommunications companies in Europe are actively seeking fuel cells to replace their existing backup solutions. The keyword, of course, being sustainability. “They have to get rid of the old diesel generators and replace them with more sustainable solutions,” Hendrikson says. “In Estonia, we’ve onboarded two of the major telco companies on the market, Telia and Tele2, who are already using our generators in some of their locations.”


Solving the hydrogen bottleneck

Until recently, reliable access to hydrogen would have been a considerable bottleneck slowing the spread of technology like this. But this state of affairs is changing. Partnering up with global companies like Messer and Linde, PowerUP can ensure that all their clients can have hydrogen delivered to them within 24 hours, in most parts of the world.

The obvious concern here, as with many emerging sustainable solutions, might be the price tag. “In terms of economics, our systems might have a slightly higher initial investment,” says Hendrikson. “But in the long run, it will be more profitable and a better solution financially for corporations. We have projected that hydrogen will become a lot cheaper in the near future. All over Europe, hydrogen projects are getting funding, making hydrogen more accessible. And when there’s more hydrogen, the prices will go down.”

Europe’s finest shooting for the moon

The star of this sustainable energy show is the fuel cell. And PowerUP is on track to be the best in the European market. They’re developing a new air-cooled proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) stack. The end result will be a fully European-made smart electric generator and battery capacity extender, that will transform the backup energy sector where attributes like efficiency, compactness, and lightweightedness are essential.

PowerUP is continuously working on improving their technology. “We have a fantastic fuel cell team here in Estonia,” says Hendrikson. “They’re all PhDs—from fuel cell and hydrogen energy to chemical science, and material engineering—working to create the most efficient and most lightweight fuel cells in Europe, and I think we’re pretty close to that.”

It would seem that they’re close enough indeed—PowerUP’s solutions have won the trust of the European Space Agency, which has signed a contract with the company for the development of a liquid-cooled closed cathode hydrogen fuel cell stack for Lunar and Mars missions. Meant to be used on Lunar cargo ships and potentially rovers, the cells will provide power when solar panels can’t.

Meanwhile on Earth, the demand for PowerUP’s solutions is skyrocketing in the metaphorical sense as well as literally. “We have to increase our production capacity to deliver the 49,500 units we have signed orders for,” Hendrikson says. As problems go, it’s not a bad one to have, demonstrating that the need for reliable, sustainable power sources is very much there. Currently raising 7 million euros to fuel this big step up, PowerUP is also getting ready to boost their sales and marketing to grow in their target markets, starting with Europe and looking towards the US, Canadian, and Japanese markets in the near future. And that future promises to be quite a bit greener, if PowerUP has anything to do with it.

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