Hydrogen for universities, robotics and telecoms

Russia presented its first hydrogen-powered car, based on the Lada, during the Open Innovations forum held in Skolkovo at the end of October – a project co-developed by the Electric Vehicle Tech with support from NTI Competence Center for new and portable energy sources and InEnergy. The latter company, a unit of the InEnergy Group, has supplied hydrogen fuel cells for the prototype – theoretically, this innovative energy source can transform Russia’s entire energy and automotive industries.

The founder of the InEnergy Group, Alexei Kashin, says he has been a computer geek as a teen and even in his school years, he knew he would be working with computers. And indeed he succeeded in making a quick, even dizzying career in IT and was promoted to head the IT department at the Pension Fund of Russia before he even turned 30, and sat at the same table with officials who were much older than him. Later, after leaving the civil service, he went into IT business.

However, his life strategy made a U-turn when, while working for his MBA, he went on a study trip to Germany. There, while talking to representatives of various industries, he came to the conclusion that energy, of all sectors, needs innovative ideas today, as almost all conventional energy technologies have exhausted their development potential.

Alexei Kashin says that he had a chance to tour the leading European companies involved in energy technology. What he realized was that the most progressive concept in the market is hydrogen energy, or electrochemical hydrogen generators.

Yury Dobrovolsky, professor and doctor of chemical sciences, Director of the New and Mobile Energy Source Technology Competence Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Chemical Physics.

After coming back to Russia, Kashin took a shot at launching his own production of hydrogen fuel cells. However, with no experience, he admits that he managed to spend almost all of his savings from his previous business on a series of unsuccessful projects. Still, he met Professor Yury Dobrovolsky from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Chemical Physics (he is currently Director of the New and Mobile Energy Source Technology Competence Center established at the institute).

Taking into account the promising outlook of new development directions, the scientist suggested cooperation. Alexei Kashin’s new company was established on the base of the Institute of Chemical Physics in Chernogolovka, Moscow Region, and its first employees were this institute’s research fellows.

In the next five years, the business delivered impressive results: its annual turnover is some RUR 1 bln ($16 mio). In addition to fuel cells, the company is currently manufacturing power supply systems for various purposes, as well as specialized structural and installation parts. The company opened production facilities in Orenburg, a laboratory in Yekaterinburg, offices in Kazan, St Petersburg, China and Germany. InEnergy Group employs some 300 people; 65 of them are researchers.

The paradox of the business created by Alexei Kashin is that is exploits the public interest in hydrogen energy, while this interest in the matter sometimes exceeds the actual use of hydrogen energy sources. Primary customers of products manufactured by InEnergy Group are educational institutions such as universities, schools and colleges. The company creates training units that students use to study hydrogen energy. The scope of the practical use of hydrogen electrochemical energy generators is more limited, but currently Kashin’s company is working with communication specialists to implement a joint project on providing autonomous energy sources for cell towers. Another joint project involves gas industry specialists and aims to provide similar energy sources to telemechanics systems at gas pipelines. Alexei Kashin believes that hydrogen batteries (electrochemical generators) will be useful for all technical devices that require autonomous energy sources, except for very small ones such as mobile phones and other wearable gadgets.

In terms of their size, hydrogen batteries are less compact than lithium-ion ones. Yet, Alexei Kashin is confident that eventually they will become indispensable for any robotic device, as well as for unmanned vehicles and drones, as an electric vehicle powered by a hydrogen generator has a greater driving range than similar vehicles powered by other types of energy sources.

By Konstantin Frumkin

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