10 Questions for the founders of Voyex, the company that aims to make hydrogen a truly viable substitute for diesel in heavy duty applications

Fabian Benschop en Wiard Leenders

This is a copy of an article published on platform zero.co

Voyex brings the Heavy Duty mobility sector one step closer to zero emissions! Connecting more renewable energy sources to our energy system, results in more fluctuations of energy supply. Hydrogen enables effective storage and distribution of large amounts of renewable (wind and solar) energy to help solve this challenge. Voyex developed all ingredients needed to make this process successful; a Hydrogen Oil, and the processes required to bond and release hydrogen to and from the liquid; increasing the efficiency of hydrogen as a fuel and making transportation easier. Read on to learn more about their entrepreneurial journey and purposeful mission!

10 Questions

1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, who are you and what makes you tick?

My name is Fabian Benschop (picture left), director and co-founder of Voyex B.V. . After university I started working in the energy sector; first at Shell and later on at a smaller company that developed infrastructure for clean fuels. In one of my last projects there, I met Wiard Leenders (picture right) who is the other director and co-founder of Voyex. We met through a project in which he was developing a hydrogen ship and I was developing a refueling infrastructure for hydrogen looking for customers. I’ve personally been involved in the dynamic Hydrogen space since 2018. Hydrogen really has it all for me: a lot of potential to do good but many hard challenges to overcome. This mix of major potential to do good and hard (technical) challenges, that’s really my sweet spot.

2. What is the core of your mission (the bold goal) that you are pursuing?

The core of our mission is to make hydrogen a truly viable substitute for diesel in heavy duty applications like ships, construction equipment, trucks and other heavier applications. Conventional methods of storing and transporting hydrogen are, in our view, too complex, inefficient and come with severe safety constraints. We are aiming at technology that has all the benefits of diesel fuel and infrastructure, but without the environmental cost.

3. What are you building/developing with your organization (and where are you now)?

We started out in 2020 with the development of a Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC). This technology basically entails that we have a safe and easy-to-use liquid in which we store Hydrogen (hydrogenation), transport it to the end-application that needs it and then release the Hydrogen (de-hydrogenation) from the carrier. As a customer, for example a maritime application, you would bunker the LOHC like you do with diesel and then on-board, there is a system to take the hydrogen out and deliver it to an engine so that you can sail without emissions.

At Voyex, we focus on 3 things to make this value chain work. We produce the actual liquid that is used as carrier, we develop technology to bond Hydrogen to the liquid and we develop technology to release Hydrogen from the liquid. It depends a bit on what activity you look at but generally, we are in TRL-4 moving to TRL-5 (on the picture you see our R&D unit where we bond and release Hydrogen). We’re aiming for a first pilot scale set-up of our value chain and commercial product in 2025.

4. What makes your team that you are working with, special?

To start off, I think Wiard and I are quite complementary. He’s the technical and creative brain, I mostly focus on the other stuff. What really helped us is that we spend quite some time on our values and who we want to be as Voyex. Ever since, we simply continue to talk daily which keeps us close. We also both have a can-do attitude and are willing to go the extra mile to get things done. You can only do that when you intrinsically believe that after every step back, two steps forward is next.

More recently, we have been joined by 3 more people that bring in a lot of expertise, creativity and energy. This is strengthening our resolve even further. It’s truly remarkable to see how much you can achieve with a small team when the goal of what you are trying to achieve is very clear. But what makes it special? For me it’s the feeling of being on a shared journey towards something great with individuals who all bring something different to the table.

5. What is your view on our climate challenge and how do you want to contribute?

Where to start? One day I’m scared, the other day I’m hopeful. Clearly, there is much to gain by more conscious individual behavior (e.g. reducing consumption, more plant-based foods, etc.) but on a whole I feel technology has to bring most alleviation to our current challenges. In that line of thought, the most helpful thing I can do is wake up every day, get to work and put my energy into a technology that I believe can have that much needed meaningful impact.

Deep-down I’m optimistic, simply because sun and wind can provide us with abundant energy and energy is where it all starts. It really is all about capturing energy and making it available at the right place, in the right form and at the right time. Hydrogen has a role to play here and working on technology that makes hydrogen storage and transport safer, easier and cost-efficient feels like a very direct contribution. I’m actually quite grateful to have that feeling on a daily basis.

6. What is your view on your sector and what is needed to accelerate change?

My view is the sector is up for a massive change and it will be a tough one. There is so much legacy, there are so many options and nothing is easy or straightforward. I often see analysis paralysis or just the typical resistance or hesitance to change. Many, however, are ready to put themselves out there, take risks and embrace the whole learning-by-doing attitude.

I think this progressive mentality is really what we need in the minds of people in all parts of our sector, whether they are in government, companies, institutions or any other entity of interest. The more who have this mentality, the easier it will become to bring projects and technology to fruition fast.

7. What are some recent highlights that really make you proud?

We’ve seen many technical highlights. Our R&D system Voyex One is operational now for a few months and we’ve been able to really substantiate the maturity of our technology. We’ve simplified processes, reduced need for noble metals and increased the throughput of our experimental work. We are no longer talking about grams or milliliters, we are now talking about kilos and liters. It is these steps that boost confidence.

From a business angle we are very happy to see that LOHC is gaining traction as a technology to be reckoned with. A lot of effort is going into prepping the minds and market for our technology. Every time we present our technology and obtain feedback, we walk away with confirmation that our solution will offer a fix to the problems that are out there.

8. What is the biggest challenge you see for your company to grow even faster?

For me, it is about maintaining balanced progression. By that I mean, technology, market, team, funding, etc. all need to progress in a balanced manner. If one aspect goes too fast or stays behind too far, we will expose Voyex to unnecessary risk.

Maintaining that balance is not easy, especially as some things are less easy to control than others. Maybe it is weird to say but I don’t want to grow ever faster, I want to grow at a pace that is right for Voyex. It’s better for all involved, even our investors. I’ve seen quite a number of companies or technologies that promise the world but eventually it turned out differently. I don’t want Voyex to be that company.

9. Are there needs (network, funding, people) that our community could provide?

For sure! We have an R&D roadmap and growth plan that needs all these things. One key aspect is that we want to commission a pilot facility in 2025. For that we need a plot where we can get the right permits, access to hydrogen and the right people and partners to help us build it. All of that will require funding and we’re aiming for a series A next year. Beyond that, there’s a vast network to mobilize and to take on with us on our journey. I am eager to see how Voyex and Platform Zero can collaborate on these topics.

10. What are the inspiring startups/scale-ups you think we should interview next?

Companies that come to mind are Zepp.Solutions from Delft, Skoon Energy and SolarDuck!