A safe way to transport hydrogen, soaking it up like a sponge and squeezing it out for use

As our planet grows hotter, it is clear that humanity must transition to clean energies as quickly as possible. Hydrogen has an important role to play in a net-zero energy system. The lightest element in the universe, hydrogen can carry three times as much energy as gasoline. When burned, it produces no greenhouse gas emissions.

But hydrogen’s promise has long been overshadowed by its challenges. Since it doesn’t exist freely in nature, it must be produced from other energy sources. For it to be green, these sources must be renewable—for example, using solar or wind power to separate water molecules, a process known as water electrolysis.

And since hydrogen is so light, it’s difficult to transport from places where there is abundant sun or wind without a loss in stability or performance. “You have to basically use it onsite, where you produce it,” says Farnaz Sotoodeh, founder of the Dutch startup C2CAT.

Farnaz started thinking about hydrogen storage and mobility 15 years ago, while earning her PhD in chemical engineering at the University of British Columbia in Canada. In 2020, she founded C2CAT, developing custom-made catalysts for hydrogen production and storage.

With its breakthrough technology for green hydrogen, C2CAT was a finalist in the European Investment Bank Institute’s 2023 Social Innovation Tournament, which acknowledges entrepreneurs who make a difference socially, ethically, or environmentally.

Storage in a sponge

Today, transporting hydrogen generally consists of compressing it under pressure or liquefying it at cryogenic temperatures, then moving it in gas cylinders or tanker trucks. These solutions are costly, inefficient, and even dangerous, as compressed hydrogen is highly flammable when mixed with even a small quantity of air.

Farnaz says that a better option is to store hydrogen in a chemical state, rather than as free molecules, using a liquid organic hydrogen carrier—a special liquid that soaks up hydrogen like a sponge, then releases it when needed. A catalyst chemically binds the hydrogen to the liquid carrier. The result is stable, looks like a vegetable oil, can be stored in an oil canister, and takes up less space than a pressurised hydrogen tank.

However, this method has its own challenges. Most common, off-the-shelf catalysts are inefficient and do the job poorly. Catalysts used for hydrogen storage require raw elements, such as platinum and palladium, which are very expensive and lose their effectiveness with repeated use.


C2CAT’s solution is to create high-performance, customised catalysts made expressly for hydrogen storage that are safe, reliable, and contain 10 times less platinum, while offering five times greater performance and stability. “This helps not just environmentally, but also with respect to capital for business owners, reducing the cost of hydrogen produced from renewable resources,” says Farnaz.

A solution fuelled by years of research

It has taken Farnaz many years to develop this groundbreaking technology. “I love research, that’s my main passion,” she says. “And I like when I’m surrounded by people with a goal in their lives and want to bring something new to the world.”

The result of her research is remarkably complex. It draws upon innovative synthesis technologies, quantum chemical research, molecular modelling, and artificial intelligence. Together, these techniques provide an understanding of a catalyst’s chemistry at nanoscale.

C2CAT synthesises each catalyst in the lab, then validates it with customers in real-life situations. The startup targets customers in the chemistry, automotive, and marine industries with specific catalysts for each application. Some smaller customers are already using the technology, while others are trying it out.

“We know that it works at the lab scale, but they have to test it at larger scale in their own facilities,” says Farnaz. “And after that, there are a lot of implications with respect to scaleup, synthesis at a larger scale, and certifications.”

While the process takes time, she is confident that her technology will reach industrial scale by 2026.

A global gamechanger

For now, C2CAT is concentrating on the European catalyst market, which Farnaz estimates is worth €10 billion. But the company’s ambitions are greater.

Today, less than 0.1% of global hydrogen production comes from water electrolysis. According to Farnaz, by enabling green hydrogen, C2CAT would save 18 000 tonnes of CO2 per year in the Netherlands alone — the equivalent of taking 4 000 cars off the roads. And if the technology were to be implemented worldwide, she says it could save one billion tonnes of CO2 per year.

“If we can enable transportation of hydrogen in a safe and practical way, this reduces the price of green hydrogen, and enables us to use hydrogen for any process anywhere, without having to produce it onsite,” she says. “The impact would be huge.”

By making a better catalyst, C2CAT itself is acting as a catalyst for a more sustainable future.