Fabrum Solutions, the company responsible for the fuel system used by Team New Zealand’s hydrogen-powered chase boats, might look at an initial public offering (IPO) as it seeks to fund its fast-track, global growth. 

Chris Boyle, a co-founder of the engineering and cleantech company, said the Christchurch-based firm was pursuing a capital raise of “tens of millions” and said it wouldn’t discount a public listing as it faced up to mounting global demand for green hydrogen-based power systems.

News of the capital raise follows the firm’s merger last month with cryogenics company, AFCryo, a four-year-old joint venture between Fabrum and French engineering firm Absolut Systems. AFCryo also recently entered into a partnership with UK firm CPH2 for the production of ‘green’ hydrogen in liquid form. 

In April, Emirates Team NZ (ETNZ) announced it was using its hydrogen fuel technology to power its support boats at the next America’s Cup. ETNZ’s ‘chase zero’ boats are powered by two 80 kilowatt Toyota hydrogen fuel cells, one in each hull.  

Fabrum’s new chief executive, Oja Mahapatra, had been brought on board to manage the capital raise, helping expand the firm's manufacturing and engineering teams. The firm now employs 54 staff and is actively recruiting. Boyle said there had been significant investment interest from local and offshore investors.

Mahapatra, who was awarded the prime minister’s business scholarship for NZ’s best up-and-coming executives in 2017, is the former chief executive of the sports drug-testing company, InsituGen.

Going commercial

The firm dates back to April 2004, founded by electrical engineer Boyle and mechanical engineer, Hugh Reynolds. 

The two Canterbury University alumni cemented their commercial plans after working together on a project with the university’s electrical department to make a partial core superconducting transformer for the power industry.

Boyle said the plan was to leverage Christchurch’s manufacturing technology capability and create a pathway for “smart minds” out of the university and polytechnic system.

“We were horribly focused on developing technology that supported a sustainable human existence and our philosophy was about 'treading lightly' on the earth.”

Today, the firm is delivering hydrogen gas production, liquefaction and cryogenic (super cooled) dispensing onto onboard fuel tanks.

Boyle said most of the firm’s work had been offshore and very much “under the radar”.

Its clients have included tech and transport multinationals Rolls Royce, Siemens and Airbus, as well as French aerospace lab Onera and US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

It has also provided patented onboard fuel tank solutions which provide zero boil-off requirements for storage primarily on aircraft.

Transport applications

Locally, Fabrum/AFCryo are working with Southland-based transport and freight operator HW Richardson (HWR) and NZX-listed Move Logistics, as well as other heavy fleet operators keen to move as early adopters into the low emission space.

According to Ministry of Transport estimates, road and marine transport account for 39% of all carbon dioxide and 17% of NZ's gross domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Of that, commercial road freight is responsible for about 23% of the sector’s emissions 

NZ's newly released $2.9 billion, four-year emissions reduction plan is targeting a 35% reduction in freight transport emissions by 2035, using 2005 levels as a benchmark. 

HWR, the country's largest heavy road fleet with 1,300 vehicles, alongside significant fuel and other industrial interests, intends to get an initial 10 'dual fuel' hydrogen and diesel trucks onto the road by next year. To support that transition, it will also start adapting some of its more than 110 Allied Petroleum stations from next April, at an initial cost of about $10m.

Hiringa Refuelling, a venture between Hiringa Energy and Waitomo, has also started construction on an initial four green hydrogen refuelling stations in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Palmerston North at a cost of $50m. 

And while HWR's investment is privately funded by the family-owned group, the Hiringa network has received a $16m grant from the government's covid recovery fund. 

The future is hydrogen

The Fabrum supplied solution into Allied involves the use of on-site electrolysers, as well as a fuel station compression, storage and dispensing developed in concert with Sydney’s Amarna Energy, Boyle said.

He said after the first station, the programme will accelerate as containers are simply “plumbed up” onto the site.

Each conversion will include electrolyser and gas production and a compression element where the gas is taken at 30bar and compressed and stored at 500bar, before dispensing.

But, he said, there were "fundamental" delivery system differences, between petrol and diesel, where filling sensors are based on tank pressure. 

“With hydrogen, you’re taking a high-pressure reservoir and trans-filling the gas into the vehicle, so the control system is different, but it's also proven and safe.” 

Boyle said HWR’s goals are ambitious, but they understand that you “either move to the new tech or you’re left holding a pile of the old stuff”. 

“They have considered what the transition looks like, and understand they need to move fuelling provisions to a future fuel, which is hydrogen.”

He said he could see a scenario in 20 years where fuel stations won’t have petrol or diesel, and be replaced by hydrogen and fast chargers for EVs.