Accelerating Startups with the Trailblazer for Recycling and Clean Energy Program

University of Newcastle

Housed at the University’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), the Trailblazer for Recycling and Clean Energy (TRaCE) program is moving innovative technologies out of the lab and into global manufacturing.

Photo taken at NIER labs of Chris Wilson (Co-founder and Director), Dr. Peter Richardson (Research lead) and Isabel Toasa (Co-Founder and Head of Research)
Photo taken at NIER labs of Chris Wilson (Co-founder and Director), Dr. Peter Richardson (Research lead) and Isabel Toasa (Co-Founder and Head of Research).

TRaCE offers several programs for industry partners, SMEs and startups to accelerate cleantech and commercialisation. This includes access to funding, world-class research teams, facilities, specialist equipment, and business growth advisory and support.

By co-funding recycling and clean energy research and development, TRaCE provides unprecedented support to researchers, business, and industry to deliver products to market.

EM Energy: Creating hydrogen from waste

EM Energy was the first recipient of TRaCE’s R&D Voucher Program that provides eligible SMEs with matched funding of up to $50,000 and access to research and development infrastructure, equipment, skills and knowledge.

Co-founded by Isabel Toasa and Chris Wilson, EM Energy takes waste and turns it into green hydrogen.

Their journey began in Ecuador, where Co-Founder and Head of Research Isabel Toasa has close experience with the damage toxic heavy materials cause.

“I saw our waterways being littered with batteries, and children suffering from illness as a consequence. I felt a mission to give remote communities a better life so came up with an idea for an organic, renewable battery,” said Isabel.

She created EM Energy with a vision to commercialise her battery that doesn’t pollute the environment with toxic chemicals when thrown out into landfill.

Along the journey she migrated to Australia where she teamed up with fellow Co-Founder and Director, Chris Wilson. In April 2023, after several tests, they discovered that in certain conditions the organic materials in their battery could be used to create hydrogen gas.

They continued to develop their batteries but morphed this iteration into the Organic Hydrogen Electrolyser Cell (OHEC), which can produce hydrogen from almost any organic material.

Unlike other hydrogen production technologies, EM Energy’s OHEC doesn’t rely on excessive amounts of water or energy, making it a fitting candidate for power generation or industrial heating in communities with waste biomass. The OHEC uses waste to produce hydrogen which can be co-located exactly where industries need it to help them decarbonise.

They knew they were onto something big but didn’t have the facilities or equipment to test the amount or purity of hydrogen the OHEC produced.

“We tried to work in shared laboratories, but because it was a communal space we had to pack up everything which became very time consuming. We also didn’t own the right equipment, so we couldn’t perform the tests we needed to,” said Chris Wilson.

“We considered sending samples to a private lab for analysis, but there are complications with transporting the hydrogen and the costs can mount up quickly. It’s so much better to be in a proper facility that’s set up specifically to look at hydrogen.”

In November 2023, Isabel made the trip to the University of Newcastle from Sydney to attend a Hydrogen Showcase at NIER, where she met Dr Peter Richardson. Following the event, she spoke with University staff about the TRaCE Program and was formally connected with Dr Richardson to kick off a research project to test and validate the production of green hydrogen from the OHEC.

After signing on, Isabel and Chris decided to make the move from Sydney to Newcastle to fully immerse themselves in the process. According to Isabel, the move was a no brainer.

“We saw the amount of industry in Newcastle and knew that’s where we’ll scale up.”

Chris shared that he’s excited to grow EM Energy through the support of the TRaCE R&D Voucher Program, saying “it’s going to give us access to some of the really great resources within the University, such as the research staff, equipment and labs, helping us to accelerate our research and development activities for the company.”

EM Energy’s early results are already looking promising, and Isabel and Chris are looking forward to seeing what other TRaCE opportunities they may be able to take advantage of to get their groundbreaking technology to market.

/University Release. View in full here.