Our reliance on fossil fuels for decades upon decades has never done any good, and the climate crisis is leading to developments that are trying to reduce our harmful impact on the planet. An Israeli startup is using technology developed over the past decade in the lab of one of its founders to produce "green" hydrogen in unprecedented ways, and they are equipped with the investment of American actor, producer, and investor Ashton Kutcher.

Cutting the process in half

The Israeli startup QD-SOL has developed panels that include nanoparticles, developed as part of a study at the Technion by one of the startup's founders and Chief Scientist (CSO), Prof. Lilac Amirav, and turn solar energy into "green" hydrogen (hydrogen produced in non-polluting ways). The panels developed by the startup are basically reminiscent of ordinary photovoltaic cells (PV) – energized by solar energy – only in this case, the nanoparticles inside them perform a process of artificial photosynthesis. In practice, the panels break down the bonds between the particles in the water, oxygen and hydrogen which allows the hydrogen to be stored and used later as a cleaner fuel. In conversation with Geektime, Professor Amirav explains that the particles inside the panel absorb the light; with the help of a component that converts light into an electric charge (just like in a regular solar cell) and a component that mimics the action of an electrolyser (which uses electric charges to promote chemical reactions), they perform photocatalysis. So, this process can replace the current process of creating hydrogen with natural gas which does emit CO2.

The process developed by Amirav, which is now being used to develop QD-SOL panels, removes the "mediation" that was previously necessary for this process; instead of performing the operation of a solar cell and the electrolyser separately, nanoparticles do everything in one place. The technology that underlies QD-SOL's panels was developed over a decade in the Technion's laboratories by Prof. Amirav. The particles it developed were designed in a way that makes efficient use of sunlight and maximizes efficiency and stability over time.

“The technology of (manufacturing) green hydrogen based on solar cells and electrolysis, makes use of silicon-based hard panels to work at normal efficiency – so it needs a large field full of panels. Our process does not have these requirements (and stringent requirements for electrolysis), which allows us to design systems that are much more flexible in terms of the design of their space," Prof. Amirav tells us.

According to Amirav, Israeli society is the first of its kind in the world to produce hydrogen using artificial photosynthesis that is created in a single process and not a multi-stage process. The companies that perform this multi-step process by way of green energy extract green hydrogen from water using electrolysis or from clean sources like solar cells and wind turbines.

Prof. Lilac Amirav

On the other hand, there are companies that produce "gray hydrogen" which is when electrolysis is performed but with the help of electricity from polluting sources. This counteracts the benefits of creating fuel that is supposed to reduce pollution since it creates additional pollution. "QD-SOL's technology is expected to produce hydrogen at a competitive price to 'gray' hydrogen (a market that will reach $200 billion/yr. over the next three years), but the aspects of clean and renewable hydrogen provide us with a clear advantage," adds Prof. Amirav.

Ashton Kutcher, AT&T executives, and owners of Max Stock

Yesterday (Monday, June 21st) QD-SOL launched from stealth with an investment of $3 million from the private investment fund of Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis; Guy Oseary, a talent agent who founded the Sound Ventures fund with Kutcher; F. Thaddeus Arroyo, Senior at AT&T; Pinchas Pozilov, one of the founders of the Diamond Exchange; and Neumann Properties and Investments Ltd by Evan Charles Neumann, one of the owners of Max Stock.

The company was founded by Prof. Amirav together with serial entrepreneur Sharon Fima (CEO), Lior Yedidya (VP R&D) and a group founded by Kutcher and Oseary alongside several Israeli executives named Blue Sound – that not only invested in a startup but also became a real member of its founding team. Thanks to the investment, the startup set up its first laboratory and Amirav tells us that the first year will be dedicated to working on the first panel to showcase the capabilities of the development. The startup currently employs about 15 people in its research and development center in Ness Ziona.

Ashton Kutcher. Photo: PR

Over the years, Kutcher has invested in a considerable number of Israeli startups, and about a year ago he invested in the Israeli food-tech startup Mitech, which develops cultured meat. He also earned quite a bit from his investments in Israeli startups: from  Lemonade and Sentinel One, after their IPO and after Intel acquired Moovit, which he invested in 2015.