Buying in: Shopify signs on as first customer for Ottawa startup's carbon-capture technology

Planetary Hydrogen team
Planetary Hydrogen co-founders (from left) Mike Kelland, Sadaf Tahmasebi and Brock Battochio. File photo

An Ottawa startup’s mission to become a global “climate unicorn” with billion-dollar market potential is off to a promising start ​– thanks to a big-time get for its first customer.

Planetary Hydrogen, which aims to use “carbon-capture” technology to help cut the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, said Tuesday it’s made its inaugural sale, to a company whose name should be quite familiar: Shopify. Financial terms of the deal were not released.

“This first sale to Shopify will be a huge boost to our business,” Planetary Hydrogen co-founder and CEO Mike Kelland said in a news release. 

“Shopify is the ideal client – they care deeply about making an impact on the climate crisis. Our ambition is to safely scale our solution to the point where we’re taking gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. I’m excited to be teaming up with Shopify to get there.”

In a nutshell, Planetary Hydrogen hopes to speed up the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which takes thousands of years to occur naturally.

The company’s patented system, dubbed SeaOH2, uses renewable electricity to split ocean water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, a process known as electrolysis. Planetary Hydrogen hopes to have a pilot plant in Nova Scotia up and running by 2022. 

By adding a mineral salt to the electrolysis cell, the system creates an atmosphere-scrubbing compound called mineral hydroxide as a waste product. The hydroxide binds with carbon dioxide, effectively “capturing” the gas while producing hydrogen – an increasingly sought-after green alternative to fossil fuels – as a potentially lucrative byproduct.

The process also helps lower the acidity of the ocean water near the plant, in turn helping to boost yields of shellfish such as oysters and lobsters. 

Shopify says it plans to purchase “negative CO2 emissions” that will be generated at Planetary Hydrogen’s plant – meaning it will effectively be paying the Ottawa startup to remove carbon dioxide from the air while helping to fund its research. 

It was one of a series of deals the e-commerce giant announced Tuesday as part of its new sustainability fund. Shopify says it plans to use the fund to pump at least $5 million a year into promising technologies aimed at fighting climate change, and Planetary Hydrogen is one of its first investments. 

“There’s a ton of research showing that we need to leverage the ocean as the world’s largest carbon sink,” Stacy Kauk, the fund’s director, said in a statement. 

“By purchasing from Planetary Hydrogen, we’ll help fund their pilot project and take their method from research papers to real life. We’re excited to watch Planetary Hydrogen grow, scale, and have a massive impact globally, from Canada.”

Shopify isn’t the only high-profile organization that sees promise in the startup’s technology. 

Planetary Hydrogen was recently accepted into a 12-week cleantech accelerator program hosted by Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service, which runs this fall. The founders will be paired virtually with leading industry mentors and get a chance to show off their technology to potential investors.

“Longer term, hopefully it sows the seeds for some future corporate partnerships,” Kelland recently told OBJ.