Update on Alchemix HydroMax

The HydroMax technology uses any carbon source including low sulfur and high sulfur coal to produce electricity, hydrogen and syngases which can be used as fuel for gas-fired power plants or converted into diesel, jet fuel, gasoline or ammonia. Alternate carbon sources include petroleum coke, municipal waste, biomass and shredded tires.

The company continues to make excellent progress as the U.S. Patent Office has now allowed 206 claims contained within a handful of patent applications. There is an opportunity to participate in an independent engineering evaluation of HydroMax vs. other hydrogen production technologies (such as gasification), to participate in a demonstration program, and to make a direct investment in Alchemix.


See: UFTO Note – H2 Production Adapts Smelting Technology, 15 Nov 2002:
(password required)

HydroMax adapts existing metal smelting technology to convert dirty solid fuels to clean gases. In iron making, carbon (coke) is mixed into molten iron oxide, and the result is elemental iron (Fe) and CO2. Alchemix’s new process, HydroMax, injects steam into a molten iron bath which makes H2 and iron oxide (FeO). HydroMax then makes use of iron making technology to return the iron oxide to pure iron for re-use. These two steps are done one after the other, and the fixed inventory of iron/iron oxide remains in place. (To produce a steady output stream, two reactors alternate, one in each mode.)

FeO + C –> Fe + CO2
Fe + H2O –> FeO + H2


A great deal of information is available at the company’s website:

Look under “News” and “Shareholders” for several powerpoint presentations and other items. Also a white paper under “Technology”. These emphasize the point that Alchemix provides a bridge strategy between hydrogen now, and the hydrogen economy of the future.

Alchemix says they have the lowest cost zero-emission coal/hydrogen technology, noteworthy in light of the somewhat controversial and problematic DOE FutureGen plan* to spend over $1 billion on a gasification approach. See Alchemix’s comments on how HydroMax will meet the FutureGen goals far more effectively.



Latest developments include specific plans for a commercial demonstration plant to be built in cooperation with members of the Canadian Oil Sands Network for Research and Development (CONRAD, Several members of CONRAD decided on July 15 to proceed with an engineering study to evaluate the HydroMax technology, economics and environmental impact in comparison with the alternate methods of producing hydrogen (i.e. steam methane reforming, gasification of solids and partial oxidation of heavy liquids). If the results of the study are positive for HydroMax as expected, then this group is likely to proceed with funding the first HydroMax plant, to be built in northern Alberta where the oil sands are located.

The plant will use petroleum coke to make 20 million scf/day of hydrogen and 10 MW of electricity. The plant will be profitable. An executive summary available on the Alchemix website (under “Introduction”) includes pro formas for the plant.

The group in Canada would welcome participation in the study (and the demo plant) by additional companies including US utilities. Alchemix will make introductions for anyone who is interested.

The group includes governmental organizations and private companies who will provide funding for the plant but may not require an equity position since they are interested in accelerated access to the technology. Alchemix, anticipating a capital requirement on its part for a substantial portion of the project (estimated at $120 million US), has drafted an investment opportunity. The proposal is for sale of stock in Alchemix with a call option for another traunch as the project proceeds.

A detailed memo on the rationale for this investment is available (password required) at:

Contact Robert Horton, Chairman

Sugar to Hydrogen by Aqueous Catalysis

In its August 29 issue, Nature magazine published an article by a distinguished group of researchers at the Univ. of Wisconsin who have succeeded in producing hydrogen and fuel gas directly from sugars and other compounds (ethylene glycol, glycerol, etc.). The novel new process is not biological, but catalytic, and represents a key breakthrough– it is the first time anyone has successfully done catalysis of carbohydrates in the aqueous phase, and at moderate temperatures and pressures to boot. (Catalysis is always done in the vapor phase, but previous attempts with carbohydrates have always failed because reaction products clog up the catalyst.) Filed patent applications have very broad claims.

The process is called Aqueous Phase Carbohydrate Reforming (ACR), and it represents a fundamentally new route for renewable fuel gas generation from biomass. The ACR process is simple, versatile and scalable over several orders of magnitude. It can utilize safe, non-flammable feedstocks as well as renewable biomass derived feedstocks. Also, hydrogen is produced with low carbon monoxide concentrations, using a single reactor vessel.

Feedstocks are plentiful and varied. To date, best results have been obtained with methanol and ethylene glycol (storable and transportable as liquid fuels!). Glycerol, derived from the esterification of fats and oils, will be available in large quantities as a byproduct of making biodiesel fuel. A lot of attention is being given to biomass ethanol, however ethanol production relies on fermentation of glucose. Processes that break down cellulosic biomass produce a mix of higher sugars which are not readily femented. ACR is much less picky.

A near term product involves using ACR to produce a fuel gas (light alkanes) fed to an IC engine genset. As fuel cells mature, they can be wedded to ACR hydrogen production.

A company, Virent Energy Systems, has been established to commercialize the technology. They are confident that scale-up will largely be a matter of standard chemical engineering, and intend to pursue aggressive product development and licensing strategies across a wide range of applications and markets. They are looking for investment to finance cost sharing of government grants. (A small investment now will enjoy substantial leverage if an ATP award comes through. The company is optimistic.) I have a brief summary and status update from the company which I can provide on request, and a business plan is available.

Dr. Mark Daugherty, CEO
Virent Energy Systems, Madison, WI

Company website:

University press release:

Paper in NATURE:

An account aimed at high-school students

CO, CO2 Removal from reformate H2

This press release will be released on Wednesday. It follows an earlier one from Avista that contained some errors. The company, H2fuel, is a spinoff from Unitel and is co-owned by Avista Labs. Unitel is a small technology development company in Chicago with several other developments that we’re tracking for UFTO.

I visited Unitel/H2fuel in Chicago recently, and heard a detailed account of this technology under an NDA. They’ve given me permission to pass the press release along to UFTO, so please hold onto it at least til Thursday.

There is an investment opportunity here.



For Immediate Release, October 31, 2001

Media Contacts: Serge Randhava, H2fuel, 847-297-2265

H2fuel Membrane Program Technical Update

October 31, 2001: In providing additional details about its proposed fuel cell hydrogen membrane program, H2fuel confirmed that the membrane is being tailored to work at temperatures up to 350C, levels that are normally associated with the water gas shift reaction. In a press release issued earlier this month, the company had announced that it had awarded a R&D contract to the University of Kentucky to synthesize, characterize and test a family of chemical transport membranes that can efficiently and selectively remove oxides of carbon from a gas mixture.

The primary objective of the H2fuel membrane program is to eliminate carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from a reformate gas stream, thereby increasing its hydrogen content and greatly reducing the overall cost of producing pure hydrogen for fuel cell applications.

H2fuel’s membrane module is being configured as a dual-role device. To begin with, all the carbon dioxide in the gas stream will be stripped out of the gas mixture. Simultaneously, the carbon monoxide that is present will be converted into carbon dioxide by means of an integrated water gas shift reaction step, following which this coproduced carbon dioxide will also be transferred out by the membrane. For all practical purposes, the H2fuel membrane module will serve to get rid of all the carbon in the gas before it goes to the fuel cell.

The H2fuel membrane is not a conventional permeation platform. Rather, it will use a polymeric membrane that operates at close to atmospheric pressure, and incorporates a unique chemical transport mechanism for attaching and detaching the carbon dioxide molecule.

“Our membrane program is based upon a simple wish list,” notes Serge Randhava, President of H2fuel. “First, we want to get rid of the carbon dioxide leaving our primary fuel processor. Second, we want to convert any carbon monoxide in the gas stream into carbon dioxide, and also affect the parallel removal of this secondary compound. At the end of the faucet, we want an enriched fuel cell hydrogen stream that is totally free of all oxides of carbon,” he adds.

H2fuel is jointly owned by Avista Labs, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Spokane-based Avista Corp. (NYSE: AVA) and Unitel Fuel Technologies, LLC, Mt. Prospect, IL.