Impact Hustlers - Entrepreneurs with Social Impact

Turning Waste into Hydrogen for Sustainable Transport - Jean-Louis Kindler of Ways2H

April 25, 2021 Maiko Schaffrath Episode 71
Impact Hustlers - Entrepreneurs with Social Impact
Turning Waste into Hydrogen for Sustainable Transport - Jean-Louis Kindler of Ways2H
Show Notes Transcript
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Maiko Schaffrath:

You are listening to Impact Hustlers and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems, and for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems, such as food waste, climate change, poverty and homelessness. My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting an impact business yourself, by joining the team of one or by taking a small step, whatever that may be towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems.

This episode is brought to you in partnership with Shane snow. The world's biggest event for change makers, social entrepreneurs, policy makers, and corporate leaders that are working on solving. The world's biggest social and environmental problems. Make sure you get your tickets for change now, it's [email protected] change now that where to get your tickets. For today's episode, I speak to John Louis Kimbler, the CEO of waste two H a company that transforms waste into hydrogen that can be used to power buses, cars, and even forklifts hydrogen isn't talked about much anymore since electric cars have taken off, but it is a very compelling solution, especially for industrial use cases, waste to age enables the local upcycling of. Waste into hydrogen and solves two massive problems for local councils and communities. Managing waste and generating renewable energy. John Lewis is an experienced entrepreneur who has been in the space for decades. And share some great insights on how to pitch an engineering driven company to investors, how to not burn out. And some really interesting lessons learned throughout his journey as an entrepreneur and enjoy this episode.

Maiko:

I'm always very excited when we have founders on the show and executives on the show that use deep technology and engineering to solve really major environmental problems. And John Lewis Kendler is the chief executive officer of waste to H which uses gasification to transform plastic waste into hydrogen. And I'm really excited to have this conversation with you. John Lilly today. Welcome to the show.

Jean Louis:

Thank you, Michael, for having us here. It's it's a pleasure. It's a pleasure to talk about waste about hydrogen and about how and what took us to this on this both long and short journey, but I'm sure you have plenty of questions and I will let you ask your questions.

Maiko:

Yeah, I would love to learn from your journey. I think you've been in this space for many years, actually, in terms of sustainability using technology and for promoting sustainability, creating sustainable solutions. And I'd love to start with how did you first. Discovered a potential off gasification to actually use waste as an energy source. When did he come across this? And what did you do next?

Jean Louis:

It's this exactly what I meant when I said old, a long journey. I was living in Japan at the time. I spent about 22 years and in Japan and I was working with a with a consulting firm. Who was who was helping municipalities and local governments, cities, towns to develop circular economy programs to be more environmental. And and this company actually had had this idea Started to develop this technology, this process to use construction, waste and wood waste to to produce hydrogen. And we are talking about the year 2000 2001. And this is this is where I discovered gasification as a solution, as a cleaner much cleaner solution to, to handle biomass. And also potentially to produce hydrogen and believe me in 2002 when we actually started and built the first prototype when we were saying that we would be producing hydrogen fuel cell cars, people would look at and look at us and think we were coming from planet Mars, because there were very few fuel cell cars at that time.

Maiko:

And now I think there's probably still not too many cars, but a lot of buses and kind of public transport solutions are relying on this.

Jean Louis:

Oh, that's actually there's a lot of buses. There's about, there's about 8,000 fuel cell vehicles that are in operation. And then in the United States only, and that most of them are in California. But if you think that, some citizen, the few details that few people know is that, for example, there are 30,000 fuel cell forklifts. That are operating in the United States. And that is because and this, it will probably last for another few years, but we are having this old battle of the the fuel that you can put into a tank versus electricity that you need to put into a battery. It takes time to store energy in the battery. You can feel in a hydrogen tank or guests on his tank in about five minutes and forklifts lots of forklifts operate in indoors. Even using a clean value fuel like for example, natural gas. Generates you two and therefore cannot be used indoors. And now with the accelerating world, the business and world of trade and all these things, and you have lots of warehouses that literally operate 24 seven, and therefore they cannot afford having their equipment sitting idle five or six hours because they need to charge. And this is why we today have 30,000 forklifts. That run on fuel cells because those forklifts literally work 24 seven. And for that, they need to be filled in five minutes.

Maiko:

That's a very good use case. Give us a bit of a background around gasification. As I understand, gasification is actually quite an old concept. That's nothing that you necessarily came up with yesterday, but this is something that has been done in the chemical industry and also for producing electricity already. But tell us about. Gasification and your take on this. How is your solution kind of pushing the boundaries and innovating on gasification

Jean Louis:

The yes, gasification has been around for long time. Town gas in in European capitals in the beginning of the 20th century was produced out of coal. That was gasified. Town gas as it actually is the productive gasification. Whenever you cook barbecue on with real wood, the char you are using the by-product of gasification. And yeah, not to revive bad memories about the the German army during second world war. I think one third of the fuel that was used then was actually created not only via gasification, but gasification was the first step to produce a gas that was then liquified into fuel. So yes, it's an old well-known and. Really reliable solution that has been, yeah, it has been around for decades. But the problem is when we talk about Processing waste with gasification. Then it opens the door to all sorts of horror stories. And literally there has been quite a lot of problems with gasification when applied to waste processing because gasification on the works really great with consistent. Predictable reliable feedstocks feed stocks that do whose event quality does not change and municipal solid waste. Obviously you have a mix of metal or plastic food, the batteries textile or rubber, everything. And this changes constantly. And. One of the keys in the in the technology that we are that our partner in Japan and Japan blue energy has developed over the past 20 years is that this process is inherently cleaner than even of course, then engineer ration. Easy, even cleaner than conventional. Yes. If I get certification and it also has a major advantage in the sense that the way it is designed and they will not go into technical details because you'll have to stop me. But at inherently the way it is design makes that this solution can. Is self adaptable is self adaptive. The feedstock quality variations do not have an impact on the process and on the quality of the gas so that we can recover. And this is really important because literally the industry has seen. Massive gasifiers being stopped because temperature, for example, in the reactor was not high enough. And there was lots of tar being produced, et cetera, et cetera. It, it comes to a point where we actually, we would prefer not using gasification to describe our solution. But we have not really found a good name yet, so we will stick, we're stick with the waste to H process, the ways to hydrogen.

Maiko:

And you're actually developing two plants right now in California and Tokyo. Can you tell us a bit about the progress you've made and where you're at right now and maybe what the challenges are and building those up?

Jean Louis:

Absolutely the so this technology, like I said, is about 20 years old. So in the past we have built for success. Unsuccessful pilots. And right now, as we speak we will be building two additional systems, one that is ready to be installed in Tokyo. And another one that is still in construction that we will have in California sometime around spraying it. This year I used to say next year, but now not now it is this year. And so those two systems are th they are the smallest size solution. And this is something that is also quite specific with our system is that we do see the the waste to H solution as something that is decentralized. As opposed to the the kind of guilt around gigantic systems that would that would of course provide economies of scale. But that also would be difficult to maintain would be, would not be that flexible when populations changes. When when the feedstock quality changes there, there might be some changes to be made in the process itself. It's always more difficult to do that on on, on a very big solution or equipment. And of course, last but not least logistics, the when you have a system that needs to be fed 1000 tons of a feedstock per day that means 100 trucks per day. And and sometimes those trucks need to come from very far from far away what we see and what we would like, when will we offer what we are offering is a solution where waste would be processed locally. Therefore really minimizing the impact of logistics on the feed. But also producing hydrogen locally because although, and this is something that's really important to say the the really the hydrogen economy is happening. It's it? We do see. All the stakeholders in this economy that come with innovation that come with products that come with solutions. But it's also a fact that today hydrogen logistics remains it remains challenging and and it will probably be challenging for another few years. We strongly believe in local short cycle loops. And that also includes producing hydrogen that would typically be consumed locally. The the waste processing center becoming also the the hydrogen refueling station.

Maiko:

So w what I've seen is actually that you just sat, this is a big part of his strategy to rely on the use of micro grids and actually work with municipalities to allow them to recycle their own ways to produce energy for their own community. And I think you've you have to first municipalities that are joining in, on that mission, or is that right?

Jean Louis:

Here in the United States, there is there is a scheme called the the community choice aggregation program, which gives communities the possibility to directly procure renewable energy from local suppliers. And there are actually 1,500 communities throughout the United States. That that had the assigned the, for the, these programs initially it was, it still is a federal level program, but more and more States are signing these programs into bills and make those programs available for the state. And it typically is the kind of environment. We are offering our solution and it's, it really is. It's it sounds like a marketing word, but it is a win-win situation for municipalities because municipalities are the ones that have a problem with waste. Obviously there wants to avoid sending that waste to landfills. They want to avoid sending that waste to incinerators, both landfills and incinerators are not much in favor with the public, but since 2017, they also cannot send that waste to China. They do need the solution. Systems like ours are the solution. And on top of this municipality is also are responsible directly or indirectly for public transportation. That's school buses, that's buses, that's municipal vehicles, streets, that's garbage trucks, fleets, and then need fuel for that. So it doesn't make sense for municipalities to actually embrace solutions like ours. That really are the key to them to solve two problems with with just one system.

Maiko:

From your perspective as as an entrepreneur, what do you think is the biggest hurdle for you at waste to age to scale this fast? Is it convincing enough municipalities to buy that energy or help set up these plans? Is it engineering problem? Is it a problem of kind of just creating enough plans and a fast enough what's the. The biggest hurdle for this to actually succeed and be scaled at the elite globally.

Jean Louis:

I would not call that a hurdle because I'm way too old to start jumping hurdles. I'm an old entrepreneur for a young company. So I would say the challenge. To the to, to developing our solution. It's actually, it's interesting. It's well, of course there are plenty of challenges. There are the naysayers who say that gasification cause they are There, there are some very prominent entrepreneurs who think that fuel cell is something that is for losers. I will not name anyone here. There's plenty of, there's plenty of challenges, but really what probably is the thing that that we do see a lot is simply legal regulatory environment. Because we are bringing a solution that is particularly about in both cases, both waste and energy are highly regulated industries and that's perfectly normal because on the one hand you have. Waste, which is w which kind of equals pollution. So it has to be regulated. It has to be controlled because you don't want to spill pollution. You don't want, you don't want to. You need to manage waste. So that the whole world does not become a big double garbage dump. And energy of course is also a highly regulated. For financial reasons, but also for safety reasons. And coming in with a solution that handles the waste in a way, in a different manner. And that also produces a hydrogen, which also is considered as something, or at least has for a long time being considered as as dangerous it means he's adapting and living with a reg regulatory environment that is not necessarily the most and cringing, I would say, but things are changing. Things are changing. Things are changing a lot. And actually probably more than in the United States, things are changing a lot in Europe because well, because government authorities are now making massive effort to promote and to support the development of all these technologies. And they do understand that the regulatory environment has to change has to evolve. So while yes, it is a challenge. Yes. It in some cases it could delay some of our projects. I'm absolutely convinced that this is something that we all of course that also is being done with the help of industry stakeholders. There's lots of lobbying taking place in the U S right now about, about hydrogen and about hydrogen related technologies. It's something that will eventually, we are, we're living in a. There's this, there is this Chinese curse about living in interesting times. And we are, we all living in interesting times, those interesting times, it being a true transition. We are really living the trend, the energy transition it's something it's serious. We w we are really at the first days or years of of a massive movement out of fossil energy. Power is renewable energy. It's, it's far from being mundane. It's something that that, so it will not happen overnight. We are lucky in a way to being part of the first wave we doing time to write this way and to come to the shore and to install a lot of systems. Because it will help. We will have handy waste and they will also help producing hydrogen where hydrogen where that hydrogen can not necessarily be produced with electrolysis, for example.

Maiko:

My next question is on your entrepreneurial strategy, right? So your personal skill set and background, I think you have a lot of experience in the industry. Obviously I've experienced leading and starting companies. But you're not an engineer, right? For this company, if actually. Collaborated with J P Japan blue energy on the technology. And for founders that are listening to this obviously at the early stages that there's a decision to be made. Are we developing everything in house or are we going to partner with those that already have developed the technology? Can you share some advice on that and why you chose to partner with a company that has developed a technology versus trying to develop stuff from scratch.

Jean Louis:

Like I said earlier, yes, I am an old entrepreneur and I have a lot of company creations and a lot of failures also because this is what we w we usually learn for from the way it happened is is we did not really choose to work with Jay back I happened to have this experience and this the, this to know the company, because we have worked together in Japan. And and about that's about two years ago, I met a group of investors here in long beach in California who were interested, who were looking for a for A clean energy solution that would have a significant impact on on the world. And for me it was almost serendipitous. It was they, we had this conversation, I said, Oh, of course, yes, there is Jay back in Japan. And that was it. It's not as easy of course. But finding the technology was not really a challenge. I think for every entrepreneur what's important is to always keep eyes and ears open and the store information, the store experience keep things and try to I, you always create from experience. You don't create from out of nothing. And in that case, it was that that, that fact, that 20 years ago, I had been working with this company. I had been involved with this technology. It's the fact that having 30 years 30 years career in in clean energy and renewable energy and clean tech I had a few comparison points that, that taught me all that, that I know. Because of that experience, I knew that the J bag solution had the significant advantages over other ones. But but then when we created ways to age and it's always the same thing when you create a company. You need that company, that this company needs to have a certain number of functions. We talking technology, we're talking financial, we're talking operation, we're talking management human resources, et cetera. And no human being isn't it's an Island. The we are we essentially, we are all social animals and nobody works alone. To be able to work. You have a client, you have a supplier, you have a, it's. So I went with the with the kind of expertise I had. Which yes, my background is political sciences, so I could hardly say and engineer, but it's also true that with 30 years playing around with technology, I must also confess that I have at least I think I know what I'm talking about when I talk about technology, but but the very first persons that joined the team at used to age. The lady who is our COO today, she literally, she's the housekeeper. She's taking care of keeping the company running in order. And because I don't do that, I don't know how to do that. I'm a business developer and that's what I, that's what I'm good at. So this is what I will be doing. I, in the team. I profoundly trust and rely on the housekeeper as well. As on, on on on, on the technology, we use also hired an engineer she's from Sweden, not very sure far away from you and and her expertise really is gasification. So because when we talk with Jay Beck, who, by the way, is our shareholder. So it's just not just not just a technology supplier, but really the way we created ways wage, the idea was that we wanted to offer Jay Beck an opportunity to go worldwide with the technology and to have access to markets and and engineering and construction. And this is exactly what we used to eat is doing our job is to engineer beyond themselves systems. That embed JMX technology.

Maiko:

Having been in this space from your perspective what would your key advice be to let's say engineering focused founders that start like engineering, heavy companies not like a quick software startup or anything like that, but like something that's actually having to produce. Physical things, whether that's like power plants or like your plants that the waste to H plans or anything like that, what would your advice be for them to be able to do that, but also still move fast and scale fast.

Jean Louis:

It's extremely interesting because I was discussing that this kind of topics earlier today Is there as a person. I consider my mentor. It's an entrepreneur. I know very well here. It's a long time friend. And he has been an investor and a technology marketer in the dot-com industry software industry for years. And one thing he told me was to. Careful not talking too much about technology. And this is what I see a lot with engineers. And I totally understand that I was doing that myself. I've been doing that myself. Not even though I'm not an engineer talking about technology just could not stop for hours and hours. You would you would talk about how great the technology is. It's not what the public wants to hear. And it's practically not what the public wants to hear when we talk about software, because nobody understand a single word about coding and everything, but it's also it's also true in the industry. And my very first advice for an entrepreneur who comes from the engineering world is find someone who will, we'll be able to give the big picture and to talk about the technology without talking technology. That's right. Super important. That's super important. It took me long and painful years to understand that. And to actually, I think I a man age now, not to talk about the technology too much, but it was it really took time, but it's absolutely essential. It's vital. You cannot start a company today. You cannot get investors. If you keep talking about technology because in investors, they invest in something that they understand and there's no, no disrespect to investors, but investors do not understand technology. What they understand is markets. What they understand is sales is it's commercial impact. It's what you can do. What you can do to change someone's life. And And it's not technology. Of course, without technology, you cannot do it, but it's not by explaining the technology. Then you will be explaining how you will change the world.

Maiko:

One more question I got regarding your entrepreneurial journey and the lessons learned, you mentioned earlier that you went through a lot of successes, but a lot of failures, as well as probably every entrepreneur that. Tries to solve hard problems. What were some of the most important lessons beyond the one that you just shared of not talking too much about technology beyond that? What were some of the lessons you've learned in your journey that you can share with founders?

Jean Louis:

be very careful with your cashflow. I actually bankrupted the company by making it grow too fast. And it's, it feels really bad when you have to lay off people because you were so happy you made that sale. It's it's bad. It really is bad.

Maiko:

Especially looking at fast-growing technology startups, which often raise a lot of capital. So maybe sometimes that problems a problem gets postponed because you have enough capital to pay the bills until you don't. So I think it was really valuable

Jean Louis:

yeah. And that leads to the other. Very important lesson, is that never ever think that you can stop and rest and just let the business go and run by itself. It does not happen that way. Never.

Maiko:

It doesn't work that way. Yeah. Is that so it's basically seven days a week, 24, seven job,

Jean Louis:

that will lead me to my third piece of of life lesson, which is. I have a deep distrust in people who say that they work 48 hours a day. I think it's extremely important to keep keep a balance between work and life because killing yourself on the job does not do any surveys to your company. I'm not advocating laziness here. I'm absolutely advocating to for doing things when you need to do them, obviously it's very important to be responsive. We are, we all using tools, email podcasts, everything that are almost immigrate. So we have to be fast, but but it's extremely important. To keep immense Assana in Sono, keep keep a sane mind in in the same body. That's very important, healthy mind, healthy body. And you cannot do that if you work constantly

Maiko:

think it's so important. I think we can learn a lot and I see a lot of startups adapting as well. I think it's always intense and early days, but adapting to a model of where. There's a bigger focus on balance work-life balance, obviously attracting better employees, but also doing better work. It's not about moving slower. It's like elite athletes are not running a marathon 24 seven, and

Jean Louis:

exactly.

Maiko:

time to rest and to train and to rest and reflect. And that's needed for businesses. All

Jean Louis:

It's it's absolutely obvious that there are times where you need to rush and work 48 hours a day, but it should not be Let's put it like this. It should not be considered as the recipe for success because this is something I don't believe in.

Maiko:

A very good lesson. I've got one more question for you. And that's thinking about the next 10 years, if you think 10 years ahead. The year 20 31 how does the world look like? In 10 years, if waste two H succeeds with your plans?

Jean Louis:

About a thousand ways to H hydrogen filling stations systems being installed at hospitals, for example. Where the waste from hospitals, which is dangerous potentially. There's not sent on trucks to remote locations to be handled, but it's handled without human manipulation directly onsite destroyed to help producing energy. Waste from communities being green, being processed to locally without too many truck back and forth that community running on the hydrogen that is being produced. Of course not only without technology. Again, there is electrolyzers, there are other solutions. We are we are here as the part of of the whole ecosystem. That is, that, that is currently under construction. I have no, no intention of dominating the world. But we do see ourselves to being a significant stakeholder in this whole hydrogen economy, hydrogen infrastructure. That is that, that, again, it's very important to emphasize it is happening. It's not a question of whether will hydrogen be used someday. It's hydrogen is being used now and will be used tomorrow and it will be increasing.

Maiko:

Thanks very much for sharing both your technology, your journey, and your entrepreneurial expertise with us today. And what's really good to have you today. Thanks for making the time.

Jean Louis:

It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.