Start-up tackling decarbonization gets funding from Amazon climate fund, Grantham

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Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund is backing a recently launched company focused on decarbonizing the transportation sector as the world rushes toward a greener future.

Start-up Infinium manufactures zero-carbon electrofuels, which is fuel made from electricity rather than oil. They’re known as drop-in fuels since they can be used with existing infrastructure. In other words, electrofuels could be used to power the engines of today’s trucks, ships and planes.

The Sacramento-based company announced its first founding round on Tuesday, led by AP Ventures, which is a London-based venture capital firm focused on hydrogen and its role in decarbonization. In addition to Amazon, other backers include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the Grantham Environmental Trust, founded by legendary investor Jeremy Grantham.

Infinium is targeting areas of the transportation sector that have proved difficult to decarbonize, including long-haul trucking, aviation and shipping. When it comes to planes, for example, lithium-ion batteries are not a great alternative given their cost and weight, while fuel cells would require heavy investment to retrofit planes and the entire infrastructure that supports fueling.

But roughly one quarter of global emissions come from the transportation sector, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, meaning it’s a vital part of the decarbonization story.

Infinium uses renewable power for electrolysis — the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen — to produce what’s known as green hydrogen. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon dioxide that otherwise would have been released into the atmosphere, and put through Infinium’s proprietary reactor.

The ultimate output is a net zero carbon fuel that can be used to power jets and trucks, among other things.

Green hydrogen is key for electrofuels to be environmentally friendly. It’s not new technology, but it’s prohibitively high cost has traditionally stood in the way of its gaining widespread traction. One of the ways Infinium plans to lower costs is to build its plants at or near renewable power sources — in remote locations, for instance — where production is cheap, but where transmission to market might be difficult.

While biofuels and green diesel are already on the market, Infinium CEO Robert Schuetzle said his company’s fuels are a new class given their lower carbon intensity.

Infinium currently has 10 projects under development around the world, and Schuetzle expects the first electrofuels to hit the market by late 2023 or early 2024.

“This is a platform that is ready for commercial,” Schuetzle said. “Based on the economics of low cost renewable power electrolyzer costs coming down in the green hydrogen space, and the addition of Infinium’s commercial ready technology platform, this will be a major area of focus for the transportation sector in coming years.”

The company’s launch comes as corporations — including airlines — are increasingly outlining ambitious decarbonization goals, amid pressure from investors and the public more broadly.

Of course, bringing any new technology or product to market is difficult. Schuetzle said that while Infinium is new, it builds on more than 10 years from technology development at Greyrock Energy, which he also founded and which focused on converting natural gas to liquid form.

“With Infinium, we see real potential to help decarbonize heavier forms of transportation, including air and freight, as well as heavy trucks,” Kara Hurst, Vice President of Worldwide Sustainability at Amazon, said in a statement.

Infinium did not disclose how much money it raised in its initial funding round. An Amazon spokesperson said the company doesn’t usually comment on the size of investments made by the $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund, which was launched in June.

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