Ottawa-based carbon-capture startup Planetary Hydrogen moving most staff to Nova Scotia

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

A burgeoning Ottawa cleantech firm that’s already landed Shopify as a customer for its “carbon-capture” technology that aims to reduce greenhouse gases is relocating most of its employees to Nova Scotia, the company said this week.

Launched in 2019, Planetary Hydrogen has created a patented system that speeds up the natural process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Dubbed SeaOH2, the system uses renewable electricity to split ocean water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, a process known as electrolysis. 

Adding mineral salt to the electrolysis cell 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.

Planetary Hydrogen hopes to have a pilot plant up and running in the Halifax region by 2022. The company originally wasn’t planning to set up shop on the East Coast until the end of this year. But co-founder and CEO Mike Kelland said moving now will help cement a budding research collaboration with Halifax-based Dalhousie University and allow employees to work more closely together in the confines of the Atlantic bubble, where cases of COVID-19 have been relatively lower than in hard-hit Ontario. 

"We need an ocean to ultimately make this thing work."

  

“We were always going to set up a lab on one of the coasts,” he told OBJ on Tuesday. “We need an ocean to ultimately make this thing work. With all those conditions coming together, it just kind of made sense to accelerate things and get a lab built out there and start going.”

Now at seven employees, Planetary Hydrogen is fuelled by more than $600,000 in financial backing from the Capital Angel Network, Toronto-based Ramen Ventures and other local investors. 

The firm made headlines last fall when it brought Shopify on board as its first customer. The Ottawa-based e-commerce giant says it plans to purchase “negative CO2 emissions” that will be generated at Planetary Hydrogen’s plant – meaning it will effectively be paying Planetary Hydrogen to remove carbon dioxide from the air while helping to fund its research. 

The company also plans to apply for government funding in the wake of last month’s announcement that the federal Liberals intend to pour $15 billion into measures to reduce carbon emissions.

New fundraising guru

In addition, Jason Vallis recently joined the young firm as its director of external relations. A former senior manager at Natural Resources Canada, Vallis will spearhead Planetary Hydrogren’s fundraising efforts.

“Funding is going well,” Kelland said, adding more financing deals and new customer agreements are expected to be announced shortly. “It’s pretty exciting.”

While Kelland will spend several months in Nova Scotia helping get the project off the ground, the Ottawa native says he has no plans to permanently take up residence in the Atlantic province. He says he and Vallis will continue to run the administrative side of the company from the capital region for the foreseeable future.

“I love it here,” Kelland said. “I’ve lived in other places, and I always keep coming back.”