Every month we interview a promising startup or scale-up in the climate & energy tech ecosystem and ask them our 10 questions. With our platform (ZERO), we want to put these bold innovators on a pedestal and introduce them to our audience. Do you want to connect with this startup/scale-up, feel free to contact us at email@example.com!
With a founding team consisting out of seasoned hydrogen racecar builders, Zepp.solutions, is among the promising startups that package fuel cells into propulsion units that provide power to ships, vehicles and a new iteration of Rotterdam’s Water Taxi. Interestingly enough, they have bootstrapped their solution so far, in a market that is dominated by competition with very deep pockets. We had the opportunity to present our ten questions to them…
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, who are you and what makes you tick?
My name is Jan Bot, I am one of the five co-founders of Zepp.solutions. Racing cars have inspired me from a very young age. Ten years ago that passion was combined with hydrogen and fuel cells when I joined the hydrogen racing team of the TU Delft. Optimizing the performance of any moving vehicle with a zero-emission powertrain is something that I will never get tired of.
2. What is the core of your mission (the bold goal) that you are pursuing?
Our goal is to enable all manufacturers of vehicles, ships, and other powered equipment to reap the benefits that hydrogen fuel cells can offer for their application, without spending the time and money to develop this technology themselves. There is huge potential for hydrogen fuel cell powertrains as a zero-emission alternative to combustion engines. We believe it will play a key role in the energy transition, that’s why we have spent the last 4.5 years developing our technology platform for hydrogen fuel cell modules and storage systems. When it’s about hydrogen and fuel cells, we want to become the go-to technology partner.
3. What are you building/developing with your organization (and where are you now)?
We design and produce hydrogen fuel cell modules containing all components, subsystems and control software that is necessary to turn hydrogen gas into high-voltage electricity. We do this using our in-house developed technology platform. What’s unique about our systems is that they are extremely compact and versatile and therefore provide a solution to all kinds of applications. This all-in-one approach makes hydrogen technology accessible to smaller vehicle manufacturers or shipyards.
We currently have multiple projects running where we are responsible for the hydrogen and fuel cell systems. One of these projects was the development of the hydrogen-electric yard tractor YT203-H2 together with our partner Terberg Benschop. Field testing of this vehicle has kicked off in October 2020 and continues to this date without any major hiccups. Another project we are quite proud of is the development of a hydrogen version of the famous Rotterdam Watertaxi. We’re in the final stages of this project and expect to see the ship transport its first passengers emission-free in the next couple of months.
4. What makes your team that you are working with, special?
Zepp.solutions has its roots in the Forze Hydrogen Racing Team, a student-led racing team of the University of Technology in Delft that develops and races hydrogen-electric vehicles. I was (and still am) one of the drivers of the team, and later took a gap year to contribute as a Technical Manager. This is where the four other co-founders and I met. We found ourselves going through all kinds of highs and lows while developing cutting-edge race cars. That made us resilient and stick together as a team, which paid off with some incredible achievements on the racetrack. The co-founders each spent several years at this team and started to discuss the potential of hydrogen technology in other applications. This was around 2015-2016 when the hype around hydrogen hadn’t quite kicked off. One thing led to another, and at some point, we had a clear overview of what was missing in the market. We were sure we could fill that gap in a commercially viable way and therefore we started Zepp.solutions in early 2017. Now, 5 years later, our team still has the relentless creativity and drive to innovate that initially united us in that student team.
On a product level, our most unique assets are the technology platform and control software. The technology platform allows us to quickly iterate on our system designs to optimize for the total cost of ownership. We are therefore able to continuously improve our products with the latest technological developments. This ranges from more efficient or compact fuel cells to compressors and pumps. The fuel cell control software that we’ve developed is unique in the industry and allows for optimal performance of our systems under any use case or environmental condition. It was a big investment to develop this platform to its current state, but it was definitely worth it. We’re now able to quickly and reliably design and produce cutting-edge fuel cell systems, a key benefit in this rapidly developing industry.
5. What is your view on our climate challenge and how do you want to contribute?
The necessity of the energy transition is undeniable. The clock is ticking, and we’re now at a point where technology is sufficiently evolved to start doing, besides all the talking. That is especially true for the hydrogen sector, which has been a future promise for years now. That’s where we come in. No bold promises for a hydrogen-powered tomorrow, but reliable and optimized systems you can implement today. Actual, real-world solutions. As we like to say: “No emission, no problem.”
6. What is your view on your sector and what is needed to accelerate change?
As mentioned before, the hydrogen sector has seen a lot of big, bold promises. Whether this has helped the technology and the public perception is debatable, but now we see that the landscape is changing. More and more projects start to materialize where hydrogen is actually being implemented instead of only being investigated. I’m proud to be a part of that movement, but keeping up the momentum is paramount.
What would help tremendously from a policy side, is a predictable and progressive carbon tax. The reality at the moment is that a zero-emission powertrain is more expensive than a conventional diesel powertrain. If we want to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission solutions, we should make sure that they become financially the most attractive. We work on this relentlessly by making fuel cell systems and their implementation more affordable. However, the adoption would be accelerated if the actual cost of CO2 emissions to society is being factored into the business model of the emitter. With such a system in place, our clients will decide to invest in zero-emission powertrains sooner and faster.
7. What are some recent highlights that really make you proud?
I’m most proud of the growing number of projects we’re asked to participate in. It’s great to see our hard work from the past few years come to fruition and get a positive response from the market. From working several years on a single system for the Terberg YT203-H2 Yard Tractor to now thinking about manufacturing lines and bigger offices. It’s taking off now, and that’s an amazing experience.
8. What is the biggest challenge you see for your company to grow even faster?
We are dealing with many of the same current challenges that others are dealing with. While the global chip shortage and supply chain crisis is obviously affecting us, we have been able to limit its impact by acting quickly and maintaining stock. I think our main bottleneck is the state of hydrogen infrastructure. The entire Port of Rotterdam, for instance, still offers no options to bunker hydrogen. This is a challenge for the entire hydrogen sector, both on the supply and demand side, generally known as the hydrogen chicken and egg problem.
We solve this by forming consortia around projects and building supply and demand at the same time. In Rotterdam, we’re developing a hydrogen-powered Watertaxi in the SWIM-consortium. Together with our partner Enviu, we are in talks with the Port authority about the possibilities of a hydrogen bunker station. In Deventer, two hydrogen-powered Zepp trucks will be hitting the road in late 2023 as part of the DREAMH2AUL project. TotalEnergies, a consortium partner, will add a hydrogen dispenser to their fueling station. These hydrogen hubs will in turn offer new opportunities for stand-alone projects and products, accelerating the adoption of the technology.
9. Are there needs (network, funding, people) that our community could provide?
We would like to get in touch with the bold trailblazers that have plans for hydrogen-powered vehicles or vessels. We would love to turn them into reality.
10. What are the inspiring startups/scale-ups you think we should interview next?
I think that any startup that is playing a part in the energy transition deserves a podium.
Enthousiastic about Zepp.solutions or do you want to connect with Jan? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will bring you in touch!
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