California has long been a pioneer in promoting renewable energy, and Governor Gavin Newsom has earmarked billions of dollars to support and accelerate the state’s clean energy transition.
A San Francisco company, Verne, is trying to capitalize on this problem with a technology that helps separate heavy-duty transportation from polluting diesel and gasoline power. Co-founder he spoke with Ted McKlveen about their work.
question: How did you and co-founders Bab Roy and David Jaramillo come together to create Verne?
answer: I met David in college and Bab in business school. We are all passionate about tackling climate change and are excited about the potential for reducing emissions in transportation with hydrogen. We bring complementary skills and make a great team. David holds his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and leads our innovation. Bav has an engineering background and his MBA to lead operations. I previously held a strategy role at a renewable energy start-up, leading sales and partnerships for the company.
question: What made you pursue clean energy technologies for heavy-duty transportation instead of commercial vehicles?
answer: We wanted to solve the “difficult to decarbonize” problem. We wanted to tackle areas where no suitable alternatives to fossil fuels currently exist. Passenger cars have a solution. Battery electric vehicles are performing well, are economical, and are gaining traction. Transporting heavy goods is a completely different story. These vehicles carry very heavy loads, travel long distances, and need to be refueled quickly to get back on the road. Battery-electric trucks work for some applications, but new technology is needed to make many trucks completely zero-emissions.
question: You’ve received support from Stanford University, Caltech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Network, Amazon’s Climate Fund, and you’re one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. was also taken up. How did Verne generate so much buzz for a young company in such a niche?
answer: Heavy transportation may seem niche, but transportation is the largest source of emissions in the United States, emitting more greenhouse gases than electricity generation. These agencies are aware of what a huge problem transportation is as we collectively strive to achieve net zero emissions, and we are committed to making an impact. They are very supportive of our efforts.
question: What are the advantages of hydrogen power in heavy goods transportation?
answer: An electric battery required to drive a semi truck for 500 miles weighs over 10,000 pounds and costs over $150,000. The weight of the battery significantly reduces the cargo a trucker can transport, greatly impacting economics and profitability. Hydrogen is a very light gas, much lighter than a battery. For the same 500 miles of range, a hydrogen system could weigh about a quarter of the weight of a current diesel system. Hydrogen trucks can also be built to cover 1,000 or more diesel-equivalent miles before needing to be refueled.
Major truck manufacturers such as Freightliner, Peterbilt, Volvo, and Kenworth have started developing hydrogen trucks all at once. Battery electricity is generally a more advanced technology today, but future trucking will use a lot of hydrogen.
question: How readily available is hydrogen?
answer:One of the advantages is on the refueling side. Hydrogen can be delivered to stations in the same way diesel fuel is today. Compare this to charging a battery that requires a connection to the power grid.
Turning one truck stop into a battery charge requires more electricity than a small town, or the equivalent of six professional sports stadiums. With hydrogen, the fuel can be delivered to the station by truck or pipeline. Second, hydrogen vehicles can be refueled in the same amount of time as standard diesel vehicles. This means the truck can get back on the road and continue service.
question: Isn’t hydrogen used to make bombs? Is it safe?
answer: Hydrogen has been safely used in many industries for decades. Like any fuel, it requires proper engineering and handling. Burns with any fuel. Diesel and gasoline will also burn when ignited. Its high energy content makes it an excellent fuel. Hydrogen has different properties and requires special engineering to operate safely.
question: Verne develops low-cost, high-density, lightweight hydrogen storage systems for use in trucks. What is it and what are the benefits?
answer: By storing hydrogen as a cold compressed gas, we manufacture hydrogen fuel tanks that can store twice as much hydrogen as tanks available today. Current hydrogen trucks store hydrogen as a compressed gas, but by cooling it, you can put twice as much hydrogen in the same tank space.
question: Newsom said California last month applied for federal funding to become a national hydrogen hub. If so, how might Verne be involved in the effort?
answer: The idea of a hydrogen hub is to aggregate hydrogen supply and hydrogen demand. Having more hydrogen produced and available here in California would certainly help stimulate the growth of the hydrogen-powered truck market. Federal funding will also lower the cost of hydrogen, making it easier for vehicles to transition to zero-emission hydrogen vehicles. Byrne is riding this wave, bringing high-performance vehicles to vehicles here in California and further improving their economics through our high-performance hydrogen storage system.
question: When does Verne plan to bring the product to market?
answer: Next year, we plan to operate a semi-truck equipped with our technology. Trucks are already lining up to try. After these initial trials, we plan to transition to multi-track trials over the next few years, prior to full-scale production.
question: If Verne’s products work in the trucking sector, what does the future hold for the company: ships, trains and planes?
answer: The trucking market is huge, with millions of heavy-duty trucks on the road in the United States alone, so we’re busy just keeping an eye on it. However, our technology may also offer value in other areas, such as off-road vehicles such as mining trucks and certain types of ships and aircraft. Our mission is to reduce carbon emissions, so we want to help as many of these heavy-duty sectors as possible transition to zero-emission operations.
question: With so much dark and devastating tales surrounding climate, do you think it can be effectively and economically addressed in the next few years?
answer: We have a lot of the technology we need to make a big impact on emissions, and we need to accelerate its adoption. Think solar, wind, and battery-powered electric vehicles. The market needs more of them all. Many new technologies are also being rapidly developed, from geothermal to new fertilizers to capturing CO2 from the air.
But we need to act even faster. We are already seeing the effects of climate change here in our backyards in California with wildfires, droughts, floods and other extreme weather events. This can be resolved, but it’s not a natural solution.
position: CEO and co-founder of Verne
Birthplace: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Residence: San Francisco
education: BS in Chemistry from Harvard University, MBA from Stanford University
5 interesting things about Ted McElboone
1. My favorite season is winter because I love snow scenery and cross-country skiing.
2. I spent six weeks backpacking in northern Alaska one summer and didn’t see anyone outside of my group.
3. I love exploring new places, especially new ecosystems with unique flora and fauna.
4. I like sports that require endurance, such as running, cycling, and cross-country skiing.
5. When I was 14, I started working on climate change by writing letters to lawmakers.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/05/30/san-francisco-clean-energy-startup-aims-for-hydrogen-breakthrough-for-trucking/ San Francisco Clean Energy Startup Aims for Hydrogen Breakthrough in Trucking