San Francisco clean-energy startup goals for hydrogen breakthrough for trucking – Instances-Herald
Ted McKlveen, the co-founder of Verne, stands next to hydrogen storage tanks on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in San Francisco, California. McKlveen’s company is developing hydrogen technology that enables heavy-duty trucks, ships and airplanes to operate with zero emissions. (Photo: Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
California has long been at the forefront of promoting renewable energy, and Governor Gavin Newsom has earmarked billions of dollars to support and accelerate the state’s clean energy transition.
San Francisco-based Verne wants to capitalize on that goal with technology that will help shift heavy-duty transportation from polluting diesel and gasoline powertrains. We spoke to co-founder Ted McKlveen about what they’re up to.
Q: How did you and co-founders Bav Roy and David Jaramillo come together to create Verne?
A: I met David in college and Bav in business school. We are all passionate about tackling climate change and excited about the potential to reduce emissions in transportation with hydrogen. We are a great team and bring complementary skills. David received his PhD from UC-Berkeley and leads our technical innovations, Bav has a technical background and an MBA and leads operations, and I previously held a strategy role at a renewable energy start-up and led our sales and partnerships .
Q: What made you decide to use clean energy technology for heavy-duty transport instead of, for example, consumer vehicles?
A: We wanted to solve a “hard to decarbonize” problem. We wanted to address a sector that currently doesn’t have a good alternative to fossil fuels. There is a solution for passenger cars: battery-electric vehicles work well, are economical and are gaining traction. Heavy-duty haulage is a whole different story. These vehicles must carry very heavy payloads, travel long distances, and refuel quickly to get back on the road. While battery electric trucks will be suitable for some applications, many trucks will need new technology to become completely emission-free.
Q: They received support from Stanford, CalTech and MIT, as well as Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Network and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, and were featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30. How could Verne create such a stir with a young company in such a niche area?
A: Heavy-duty transportation may seem like a niche, but transportation is the largest source of emissions in the United States, producing more greenhouse gases than electricity generation. These institutions know what a huge problem transportation is as we collectively strive to achieve net zero emissions and have been incredibly supportive of our efforts to make a difference.
Q: What are the benefits of hydrogen propulsion for heavy transport?
A: Electric batteries required to power a semi-truck over 500 miles would weigh over 10,000 pounds and cost over $150,000. The weight of the battery significantly reduces the cargo that the truck operator can haul, which has major implications for economy and profitability. Hydrogen is a very light gas, much lighter than batteries. For the same 500-mile range, a hydrogen system could be about a quarter the weight, similar to the weight of a current diesel system. Hydrogen trucks can also be built to achieve a range of 1,000 miles or more without the need for refueling.
The major truck manufacturers including Freightliner, Peterbilt, Volvo, Kenworth and others are all starting to develop hydrogen trucks. Battery electric is generally a more advanced technology today, but the future of trucking will involve a lot of hydrogen.
Q: How accessible is hydrogen?
A:One advantage is on the tank side. Hydrogen can be delivered to gas stations, just like diesel fuel today. Compare this to battery charging, which requires a connection to the mains.
Converting a single rest stop to battery charging would require more electricity than a small town, which is the same electricity as six professional sports stadiums. With hydrogen, you can deliver the fuel to the gas station by truck or pipeline. Second, hydrogen vehicles can be refueled in the same time as a standard diesel vehicle. This means the trucks can get back on the road to continue their service.
Q: Wasn’t hydrogen used to make bombs? Is it safe?
A: Hydrogen has been used safely in a number of industries for decades. Like any fuel, it requires proper engineering and handling. All fuel burns: Diesel and petrol also burn when ignited. The high energy content makes them good fuels. Hydrogen has different properties that require special technology for safe operation.
Q: Verne develops low-cost, high-density, and lightweight hydrogen storage systems for use in trucks. What is it and what advantages does it offer?
A: We manufacture hydrogen tanks that can store twice as much hydrogen as the tanks available today by storing hydrogen as a cold, compressed gas. Today’s hydrogen trucks store hydrogen as a compressed gas, but by adding additional cooling to the hydrogen, we can fit twice as much hydrogen into the same tank space.
Q: Gov. Newsom said California applied for federal funding last month to become a national hydrogen hub. If granted, how could Verne possibly fit into this effort?
A: The idea of hydrogen hubs is to combine hydrogen supply and hydrogen demand. If more hydrogen were produced and available here in California, it would certainly help fuel the growth of the hydrogen-powered truck market. Federal funding would also lower the cost of hydrogen and ease fleets’ transition to zero-emission hydrogen vehicles. Verne would ride this wave, supplying fleets here in California with more powerful vehicles and further increasing their economic efficiency with our high-performance hydrogen storage systems.
Q: When is Verne expected to launch products?
A: Next year we will have an articulated lorry with our technology in use. Truck fleets are already lining up to try it out. After these initial trials, we will move to pilot trials with several trucks over the next few years before full-scale production.
Q: If Verne’s products work in the truck space, what does the company have in store – ships, trains, airplanes?
A: The truck market is huge, there are millions of heavy duty trucks on the road in the US alone, so we would all be busy just focusing on that. However, our technology could also offer added value in other sectors: in off-road vehicles such as mining trucks, as well as in certain types of ships and aircraft. Our mission is to reduce CO2 emissions. That is why we want to support as many of these heavy-duty sectors as possible in the transition to zero-emission operations.
Q: There is a lot of gloomy and gloomy talk about the climate problem. Do you think it can be solved effectively and economically in the years to come?
A: We have many of the technologies we need to make a big impact on emissions and we need to accelerate their adoption: think solar, wind and battery electric vehicles. We need more of these on the market. Many new technologies are also being developed rapidly, from geothermal energy to new fertilizers to CO2 capture from the air.
But we have to move even faster. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change here in our California backyard, with all the extreme weather conditions: wildfires, droughts, floods. We can solve this, but it won’t happen by itself.
- Position: CEO and co-founder of Verne
- Age: 30
- Place of birth: Minneapolis, MN
- Residence: san francisco
- Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Harvard University, MBA from Stanford University
Five interesting things about Ted McKlveen
- His favorite season is winter because he loves snowy landscapes and cross-country skiing.
- Spent six weeks backpacking in northern Alaska one summer and saw no one outside of his group.
- Loves exploring new places, especially new ecosystems with unique flora and fauna.
- He enjoys endurance sports such as running, cycling and cross-country skiing.
- At age 14, he began his efforts to combat climate change by writing a letter to his congressman.