UCL Innovation and Enterprise


Energy storage concept may be the answer to a greener future

1 November 2011


Charlie Dunnill’s prototype for an energy-efficient water-splitting device that can convert electricity into hydrogen has come a long way since he started “tinkering in the barn.” UCL Advances helped to develop a prototype for the H2-NRG WSD, with prize money from the London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge and other sources, as well as with highly technical 3D CAD drawings arranged by the HELO programme.

As the race to find viable energy alternatives to fossil fuels intensifies, the potential for renewables such as hydrogen is enormous. Widely regarded in the scientific community as the answer to fulfilling the future energy requirements of the world, hydrogen is easy to produce, store and use in a variety of applications. So committed to hydrogen as an alternative energy source was UCL research scientist Charlie Dunnill that he spent his holidays “tinkering in the barn with a few pieces of pipe work and a £10 solar panel”, he says, and from there the idea for the H2-NRG WSD started to take shape.

Put simply, the H2-NRG WSD is a highly efficient water-splitting device consisting of an on-site box that can convert electricity from any source into hydrogen, thus presenting an ideal way to store renewable, on-demand energy. Charlie and his business partner, Kris Paasila, an MSc in Management from London Business School, formed a company, H2-NRG Ltd., to develop the product after entering the London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge in 2010. They were runners-up, earning £3,000, in the post-graduate category, as well as winners of the Provost’s Prize of £2,000 and a £3,500 Innovation Central Bursary from Camden Council.

To help sell his idea, Charlie turned to the HELO programme for help in producing a highly technical 3D CAD print and a demonstration model of the prototype, which H2-NRG could use to present their technology to potential investors. The company was a runner-up in Electronic Product Design magazine’s E-Legacy awards in September 2010, just losing out to Ericsson with their power modules.

H2-NRG has yet to sell a device – “we have to create the need for it first,” Charlie says. “It’s a Catch-22. People don’t use hydrogen because they can’t buy it, but at the same time they can’t buy it because they don’t use it.” Meanwhile, Charlie and Kris are looking for work as consultants in the field of renewable energy; their experience includes energy drink formulation, large-scale hydrogen production from waste, and off-grid facilities in Nigeria and Pakistan.

Charlie adds: “We are now in a position to build something that will be economically viable for the production of an on-site green alternative to replace or at least supplement traditional energy sources. We’re very grateful to UCL Advances for their help in getting us to this stage.”