Joi Scientific’s perpetual hydrogen scheme predictably falls apart

Claims of 200% energy return with its seawater to hydrogen ‘technology’ prove false

Over the past few years, a company based out of Florida, Joi Scientific, has been gaining millions in investment and headlines. Recently, the company admitted to investors that its technology doesn’t work at all.

I [Mike Barnard} have a personal hand in this. Earlier this year, Joi Scientific was brought to my attention by CleanTechnica. A quick review found numerous red flags that suggested that the company wasn’t what it claimed. My guidance at the time was to not publish more on it, or at least nothing which provided flattering perspectives on its technology.

CBC in Canada had already published one article on Joi Scientific, questioning the multimillion dollar investment from New Brunswick Power and its head Gaetan Thomas, President & CEO, BScEngEE, D.Sc., ICD.D, P.Eng. I reached out to the journalist and was interviewed for a follow-on piece: Science behind NB Power’s hydrogen venture too good to be true, critic says. That critic would be me.

And now, the inevitable has happened. As CBC reported this week, Joi Scientific has admitted that its technology doesn’t work in any way, shape, or form as promised, but in fact has perhaps a 10th of the efficiency that it claimed. Its CEO Traver H. Kennedy told shareholders on a call:

“We’ve come to learn that the power measurements coming into our circuitry and going all the way back to the wall fundamentally show our current Hydrogen 2.0 technology has poor system efficiencies.”

Given that the company claimed getting twice the power out as it put in, this isn’t surprising. Also unsurprising is that he told investors that the company had no money left.

As part of my standard process that I provide as a service for clients and for publication, I assessed the public claims, claimed patents, scientific papers, and the backgrounds of the principals. This helps provide a well-rounded view of a technology and its proponents, enabling good investment decisions. Outside of the memorable case of the second (or possibly third) generation con man I discovered this year, the approach also helped me identify that a wind generation technology innovator’s previous claim to fame was making artificial noses, not a conspicuously relevant or adjacent market. It certainly didn’t pass my sniff test.

In the case of Joi Scientific, I reviewed the 11 patents that it had filed under the names of its two senior executives, Traver H. Kennedy and Robert L. Koeneman. Kennedy is Joi Scientific’s CEO while Koeneman is co-founder, President and Senior VP Technology.

The patents were illuminating, and reflected the public claims in its promotional videos.

In the exemplary systems, for one watt of input energy, two watts of energy in the form of hydrogen gas is achieved (a level of 200 percent).”

This was the first interesting point I stumbled across, and represented one of two or three Nobel Prize-worthy achievements, if they had been true, violating as they do both the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

I reached out to one of my long-term collaborators, Tim Weis, with whom I’d shared earlier iterations of this story, for comment. He’s currently Industrial Professor, Mechanical Engineering / Executive Director, Electricity, Centre for Applied Business Research in Energy and the Environment (CABREE), and has been a Director of the Pembina Institute and an advisor on energy to the Alberta Notley government.

“There may still be a significant role for hydrogen in a low-carbon economy, but the public needs to remember that in absence of a hydrogen mine, it is an energy-storage medium, not a source. If I were to say I was going to use Duracell batteries as a power supply, it would raise a red flag pretty quickly. If there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s that it has made a useful example for my engineering students as to why we study the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.”

The 200% claim wasn’t the only remarkable one. In another patent of the 11, in case the 200% claim had been merely an extended typo, they claimed the following:

“the production rate of the generated hydrogen 112′ increases significantly from a 0.7/0.8 Coefficient of Performance (COP) to greater than four times the COP (>400%).”

What’s a coefficient of performance? It’s actually something that is used in heating and cooling systems. You know what beats a CoP of 1? Systems like geothermal heat pumps which gain energy from an external source, using electricity to route a heat transfer fluid through a warmer or colder medium. That’s not what Joi Scientific is claiming, however. The company is claiming that it is putting electricity into a device which splits sea water into hydrogen and oxygen and gaining so much excess energy as to achieve 400% efficiency results.

That’s pretty remarkable. But that’s still not all.

Next Joi Scientific claimed hyper-efficient use of hydrogen as an energy source. It claimed that the company was able to use the resulting hydrogen in either a combustion or fuel cell model to generate enough energy to keep the process going indefinitely. Hydrogen in combustion or fuel cells is ~60% efficient at best. To gain net hydrogen for use elsewhere, this implies that they would have to achieve around 170% energy efficiency to be able to create hydrogen continuously. If Joi Scientific has managed to get well above 60% with hydrogen fueling its process, it would have won another Nobel Prize for that. Of course, it didn’t.

Another red flag was the lack of any actual output numbers beyond what was claimed in the patents. Nothing. No technical input/output results. No reports. No white papers. No scientific papers. No peer-reviewed results. No third-party results. Nothing.

Joi Scientific was also claiming technical breakthroughs using pulsed electricity in its electrolysis. This sounds impressive and all, but prior art on using pulsed electricity in hydrogen electrolysis goes back to 1994. Anyone familiar with the field looking at its patents and claims would immediately start questioning the company’s results on this claim alone. PEM electrolysis is currently around 80% efficient with a projected hypothetical peak of 86%, yet it was claiming 200%. Frankly, anything about 86% would have made anyone familiar with the field question the company’s results, and even 86% is questionable as industrial processes are rarely as perfect as optimal lab hypothetical processes.

Another piece of context is that free energy from water claims have been extant since the 1970s. A former Joi Scientific employee, anonymized with the pseudonym “Alex” by the CBC, pointed out that the Joi Scientific patents were remarkably similar to Stanley Meyer patents from 1990. Meyer’s water-powered cars still show up on YouTube and the like, shared by the credulous, despite him having been convicted of fraud in 1996. As the former employee said to CBC:

“Not only was it “not possible,” but Alex said the company’s technology “really wasn’t even able to be demonstrated. It never matched up with what they were trying to claim.”

His assertion was that Joi Scientific was achieving 20% efficiency, not 200%, that whatever it showed to NB Power and its PhD assessor — yes, an actually credentialed third-party chemical engineer looked at this mess and gave it the green light — was not actually working and that the company knew it. Of course, the third-party assessor was in addition to NB Power’s CEO and President’s credentials which should have indicated a background sufficient to catch these not very subtle clues. After all, the string of letters after his name include BScEngEE, D.Sc., ICD.D, P.Eng. Yes, electrical engineer, doctor of science, a professional engineer and a designation from the institute of corporate directors.

Of course, there’s more. It is insufficient that Joi Scientific claimed to be able to get around the first and second laws of thermodynamics and to have an incredibly efficient fuel cell, as the claims it made about what was happening were also remarkable.

“Molecular rotation, during the rise and collapse of the magnetic field order within the chamber, generates additional forces in the form of vector and velocity values. These rotations cause respective nano-scale distances to increase and decrease between atoms. Rotational effects during the on and off portions of the impulse cycle reduce the strength of the atomic bonds to aid in the separation of the atoms making up each molecule’s composition.”

For context, centripetal forces are absurd orders of magnitude less powerful than atomic forces. As I said to the CBC, it’s the equivalent of claiming an eight-year old can throw a baseball to the Moon.

As for the principals, Kennedy and Koeneman, suffice it to say that neither has any electronics, hydrogen fuel cell, electrolysis, chemistry, physics or electrical generation background. One has a music degree, the other is a software developer way back. There is nothing in either of the principals’ backgrounds that suggested that they might be able to create a breakthrough technology in this space. Their names are on the patents, but it’s unlikely that they wrote them or even understood what they were putting their names on.

New Brunswick Power and Gaetan Thomas aren’t the only embarrassed investors this week, I’m sure. Back in October 2018, Tampa’s MarineMax signed a deal to use Joi Scientific’s product on MarineMax-powered boats. As David Hahn, a professor and department chair of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida, said at the time,

“Run your boat just on seawater? Yeah that ain’t happening. If you do that, you just won the Nobel Prize for physics and world peace.”

Of course, New Brunswick Power was already a year or so into its sojourn with Joi Scientific at that point, so the opinions of Hahn and me were already too late.

Joi Scientific wasn’t the only ‘dubious’ energy technology I spotted and assessed this year. A west coast US company was brought to my attention by a client, and as part of my services I assessed them and found them to be an out-and-out con, with a principal who was literally the son and nephew of two of the United States’ most notorious con artists. Their claims were even harder to imagine people accepting, yet that firm had found multiple people, including many with very good credentials, to accept and promote them. Needless to say, my client didn’t give them any money.

So there we are. New Brunswick Power and through them the rate payers of the province of New Brunswick are out at minimum $13 million spent on an obviously non-viable technology. Their due diligence failed. New Brunswick’s time and energy has been wasted on nonsense instead of on viable wind and solar projects. NP Power’s CEO and President is facing stiff questions from his Board and from the elected officials of the province. And it all could have been avoided if they’d actually engaged even moderately skeptical and informed energy analysts such as Tim Weis, David Hahn, or me.


With aikido, not boxing, we can stop a blue wave

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at Queen’s Park in Toronto on May 3, 2019. Photo by Tijana Martin

 The narrative Jason Kenney offers Albertans about all-powerful foreigners turning Canadians against the oilsands is weak and factually false.

It survives only because it’s more compelling than the subtext Albertans probably hear in our climate campaigning: “We’re good, you’re bad. You need to be stopped for the good of other people’s families, even if it hurts your own.”

…The consensus among international energy analysts is that, after an era in which coal gives way to liquefied natural gas (LNG), LNG will give way to zero-emission hydrogen for long-distance energy trade, with the hydrogen used in industry, power generation and transportation, primarily in larger vehicles (long-distance trucks, trains, boats, planes) where batteries remain an unsolved engineering problem.

Yes, in the near term, fossil fuels will remain the cheapest means of producing clean hydrogen, even after factoring in the cost of carbon capture and storage. But the falling cost of renewable electricity suggests that within a few decades, and then forever after, hydrocarbons won’t be a factor in the hydrogen calculus.

…Hydrogen is how climate advocates can pursue emissions reductions while keeping Alberta on-side and while embracing Albertan resources. Not only is Alberta building its “Carbon Trunk” pipeline for sequestering carbon dioxide — which could eventually sequester 14.6 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas per year, almost one-quarter of British Columbia’s annual emissions — but recent auctions have also established Alberta as the cheapest place in Canada to build new renewables.

In the short term, Alberta’s energy sector can win with hydrogen from hydrocarbons; in the medium term, with hydrogen from both renewables and hydrocarbons (with carbon capture); and in the long term, with hydrogen from renewables. The Alberta research institute CESAR has already calculated that the province could generate at least twice the economic activity, on a dollar-per-unit-of-energy basis, by producing more hydrogen than it currently generates with its oil.

“This will not only mean jobs, but the earnings from the production, wholesale and retail sale of hydrogen will contribute to the province’s gross domestic product, royalty and tax revenue,” the report says.

Not boxing, But aikido

How might clean hydrogen change how we view fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines and export terminals, and our fellow Canadians’ expertise in building and operating them?

Instead of seeing it as a permanently polluting monolith to be toppled, we can approach our fossil-energy expertise as a temporary apprenticeship en route to mastering the craft of clean-energy exports.

The former is a boxing worldview, premised on overpowering the other party: shutting infrastructure requires advocates to out-endure industry, its employees and their communities at every turn. If our cousins feel an imminent threat to their livelihoods, they will fight us as ferociously as coastal First Nations have opposed the Trans Mountain expansion, and probably flock to Kenney’s deceitful embrace. As we might, if we were in their shoes.

The latter is an aikido perspective, turning the other party’s momentum into an advantage. While some specifics such as preferred pipeline materials may differ, most of the talents our energy sector have mastered will still apply tomorrow with hydrogen. With a combination of policy and public pressure, we can channel Canada’s energy expertise toward an Alberta-inclusive climate-positive goal. MORE

Electrolysis breakthrough could solve the hydrogen conundrum

Electrolysis breakthrough could solve the hydrogen conundrumCredit: Monash University

Hydrogen gas is the perfect green fuel—it can be extracted from water and is non-polluting. But although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it doesn’t naturally occur in large quantities as a gas on Earth.

Hydrogen gas is the perfect green fuel—it can be extracted from water and is non-polluting. But although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it doesn’t naturally occur in large quantities as a gas on Earth.

The race is on to find cheap, efficient, non-polluting ways of generating and storing hydrogen. It’s long been known that an electric current will cause the elements of water—hydrogen and oxygen—to split to produce hydrogen and oxygen gases in a process known as electrolysis. This process can also be reversed to generate electricity when hydrogen and oxygen gases interact in a fuel cell (NASA has used fuel cells to power satellites and space capsules since the 1960s).

Until recently, the cost of electricity has been a roadblock to producing industrial quantities of hydrogen gas through electrolysis. But low-cost renewable electricity technologies have removed this barrier.

Another obstacle is that efficiently splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen gases has required rare and expensive metal catalysts such as platinum and iridium. Iridium is one of the rarest and most costly elements on Earth—it’s often carried here by meteorites. And even the most stable iridium-based catalysts can only withstand electrolysis for a short time.

“If you increase the temperature while running water electrolysis, the iridium-based catalyst will dissolve and you lose it,” explains Dr. Alexandr Simonov from the Monash School of Chemistry. “This is the worst thing that can happen, to dissolve something that costs hundreds of dollars per gram. It can also go into other components of your electrolytic device, contaminating them and preventing them from proper operation.”

The first water electrolyzers used alkaline water, and this remains the traditional approach, Dr. Simonov says. But more advanced and efficient technology uses an acidic environment, using solid-state electrolytes—unfortunately, the catalysts can’t withstand this environment for long.

Dr. Simonov and members of his research team, including Dr. Manjunath Chatti and James Gardiner, have made a discovery with enormous potential to solve the instability problem, making hydrogen generation by water electrolysis more economically viable.

“We’re replacing iridium with elements that are abundant, cheap, and operate in a more stable manner,” Dr. Simonov says. “We’ve demonstrated their stability in very strongly acidic conditions and up to 80°C, which is an industrially relevant temperature. We achieved absolutely no degradation.”

Electrolysis breakthrough could solve the hydrogen conundrum
Hydrogen-powered buses are on the road in Brazil. Credit: Monash University

Dr. Simonov describes the system he’s developing with his team as “self-healing.” Because all metals—even iridium—dissolve during electrolysis, the researchers wondered if the dissolved material could be redeposited on the electrode during operation.

“It turned out that it can,” he says. “We’ve produced a highly active electrode surface based on abundant metals that is sustaining industrially relevant rates of water splitting.” The high temperature and the strongly acidic environment “makes our most recent work different from pretty much everyone in the scientific world, and brings us closer to industry application,” he says.


World’s most efficient wind power plant doubles capacity

If  Norway can develop this 400 GWh wind park in its Arctic, why can’t Canada?

The Raggovidda wind park in Berlevåg, Arctic Norway, teams up with Luxembourgian investors and boosts green generation. Some of it will be used to produce hydrogen.

The Raggovidda wind farm is located on the coast of the Barents Sea. Photo: Atle Staalesen

The 15 turbines on Mount Rákkočearru have since they were built in 2014 had an annual production of close to 200 GWh. That is almost twice as much as an average wind park.

The open landscapes of the Varanger Peninsula offer little resistance and winds blow with an average speed of 9,5 meter per second all through the year. Hardly any other wind park in the world has the efficiency of Raggovidda.

Now, a major expansion is in the air. Owner Varanger Kraft sells 49 percent of the park to Cube Infrastructure Managers, a Luxembourian investment company, and announces a doubling of capacity.

By late 2021, the wind park will increase annual generation to more than 400 GWh, the company informs.

Big potential

It is the shape of the landscapes that is the main reason for the high efficiency of the plant. There is no vegetation. And the area is covered by snow major parts of the year.

“Nowhere else, the conditions are as suitable for development of wind power as along the coast of Finnmark,” Tore Martinsen, wind power developer for Varanger Kraft, told the Barents Observer in 2018.

“We have done some informal investigations and have not been able to find a single land-based facility that produces this well,” he underlined.
The project development license obtained by Varanger Kraft in 2010 includes up to 200 MW. But the company has not been able to take advantage of more than 45 MW. The reason is the insufficiently developed transmission grid in the region.
Tore Martinsen is wind power developer for Varanger Kraft. Photo: Atle Staalesen
Hydrogen production

The expansion of the Raggovidda comes as Varanger Kraft is developing a test facility for production of hydrogen.

Down by the sea port of nearby Berlevåg, the company this year started to build a 400 square meter facility that ultimately is to produce a minimum of 120 tons of hydrogen.

It is an experimental project, and production will initially be modest on an industrial scale. But if successful, the hydrogen generation would mean that the increasingly cheap electricity from Raggovidda will not necessarily have to be transferred out of Finnmark, but instead used for alternative purposes. MORE


OPINION | The conversation Calgary needs to have: How does an oil city adjust to a new reality?

There are solutions out there, ones that go beyond building more pipelines or electing the ‘right’ politicians

Calgary faces a future that won’t look like its past and how the city adapts to new realities will be key to its success, or lack thereof, in the coming years, says Max Fawcett. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

What Calgary desperately needs right now is an honest conversation about how it will adjust to the new reality it’s facing, one defined by finite oil demand and seemingly limitless global supplies.

What it’s gotten, unfortunately, is a conversation about how to go back to the old reality — and efforts to attack people who aren’t willing to help recreate it.

But Alison Cretney, managing director of the Energy Futures Lab, is trying to change that. The lab, which brings together people from industry, environmental organizations, local government and academia, seeks to create the kind of conversation that’s been lacking of late.

“The reason that the conversation has been so limited is in large part because of the polarization, which only seems to be intensifying,” she says. “It’s us-versus-them stuff, and there’s no room in that for a solution-based conversation.”

And, believe it or not, there are solutions out there — ones that go beyond building more pipelines or electing the “right” politicians.

New opportunities

Cretney says Alberta is almost ideally positioned to capitalize on the decarbonization of the global economy, both because of the skills and education of its population and the opportunity to apply both to a host of new challenges.

“The core issue isn’t oil and gas itself. The real issue at the centre of this is how we’ve been using them, which is to extract oil and gas and directly combust them,” she says. “And we can get trapped into thinking that the way we produce oil and gas today is the only way to do it.”

Take the Alberta Zero-Emissions Truck Electrification Collaboration (AZETEC), a $15 million project that is testing hydrogen as an alternative to diesel for Alberta’s commercial transportation industry.

David Layzell is a professor and director of the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research Initiative at the University of Calgary. (University of Calgary)

As University of Calgary professor David Layzell and Jessica Lof, a research lead at Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research, noted in an Edmonton Journal story earlier this year, “there is no region in North America that is better positioned than Alberta for cost-effective, large-scale production and distribution of zero-emission hydrogen fuel. Proven technologies already exist for producing hydrogen from fossil fuels. These technologies can be adapted with relative ease and at low cost, to either put the unwanted carbon byproduct back in the ground, or never take it out in the first place.”

Better still, if the province produced and exported hydrogen rather than selling equivalent volumes of oil and gas into the U.S., the provincial economy could generate anywhere from three to 10 times as much economic activity.

The same is true of the outputs, from elements like vanadium and lithium, to carbon fibres and asphalts, that could be created using bitumen.

“The economic estimates on that are huge,” Cretney says. “By 2030, it could add an additional $200 billion-plus in economic activity. We just need to get beyond that view that when we talk about oil and gas it’s extract and burn.”

Women ‘leading the charge’

But in the city’s emerging tech (and, yes, energy tech) space, 30 per cent of company founders are women — a figure that’s double the national average.

Emma May says women have been ‘leading the charge’ in taking Calgary’s business community in new directions. (Charles Real Estate)

That doesn’t surprise Emma May, a Calgary-based serial entrepreneur who worked as a corporate lawyer during Calgary’s boomiest years.

“I’m not surprised that women are leading the charge in terms of doing something new,” she says, “because more women have had to pivot in their careers. More women have had to make different choices, and had to balance competing interests.”

“There’s that generation of 55 and up who have been the beneficiaries for a long time of something that was super lucrative, and there’s an anger and frustration there for them that this isn’t continuing,” says May. “But when you go down in the demographics, to younger people and women, they weren’t necessarily the beneficiaries of the largesse that came from the oil and gas boom, so they aren’t as angry. I feel like there’s more optimism.”


Hydrogen from seawater: Using solar power for electrolysis

 The breakthrough opens the door for widespread generation of hydrogen fuel powered by wind and solar energy.

Stanford University researchers have developed a method of generating hydrogen from seawater. The breakthrough harnesses solar power to drive the process of electrolysis to separate hydrogen and oxygen gas from water.

Previously, water splitting methods have relied on highly purified water, an expensive and precious resource.

Hydrogen fuel is a promising option in the fight against climate change because it doesn’t emit carbon dioxide when burned.

hydrogen from seawater such as this is being researched by Stanford University

Seawater could soon become a source of abundant hydrogen fuel after breakthrough research from Stanford scientists.

However, utilising the clean gas as a fuel to power cities and vehicles would be impossible, according to lead researcher, Hongjie Dai.

So the team turned to saltwater from San Francisco Bay. They created a proof-of-concept demo using solar panels, electrodes and ocean water.

A new way to harness hydrogen from saltwater

The Stanford prototype uses electrolysis: put simply, splitting water into hydrogen into oxygen using electricity. A power source (in this case solar panels) connects to two electrodes placed in water. Hydrogen gas bubbles from the negative end, oxygen from the positive.

Unfortunately, negatively charged chloride in seawater corrodes the positive end and shortens the life of the the The Stanford team found that by coating the anode with layers rich in negative charges, they repelled the chloride and halted the decay of the underlying metal. MORE