A chemical engineer at a company in Norway displays a hydrogen-generating ceramic membranes.


Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, has been an elusive clean fuel option for decades due to the difficulties of generating the energy-packed element in an efficient, low-cost method and without carbon emissions. A low-key giant in the world of engineered ceramics says it has a new method to make hydrogen fuel that works with existing energy infrastructure.

The Golden, Colorado-based company, led by the great-grandchildren of brewery founder Adolph Coors, thinks it has an energy-efficient alternative to the conventional way hydrogen is made for refineries and chemical and food-processing plants. The technology, which uses a nickel-based glass-ceramic protons to generate the fuel, is more efficient than electrolysis, a competing approach to making hydrogen by splitting water with electricity from renewable energy sources.


Timothy Coors is a co-CEO of the company.


Under the best of circumstances, hydrogen generated from steam reformation and electrolysis can have energy efficiency in the mid- 70% range, but the cell can only operate in the upper 80% to low 90% range.

A global team of researchers wrote in the journal Science about the approach developed by CoorsTek. In the next few years, it wants to bring the technology to market.

At a time when engineering and technological improvements are making hydrogen more attractive as a carbon-free fuel toelectrify heavy-duty trucks, trains, ships, CoorsTek is jumping into hydrogen at a time when it is already a key supplier of high-tech ceramic materials to the global automotive Hydrogen can be used with fuel cells to create electricity. It takes far more energy to make hydrogen than it returns, so the company's approach would overcome that.

Hydrogen is seen as a way for carbon-intensive industries such as steelmaking and oil refining to reduce their overall pollution footprint, despite the fact that Musk has been a high-profile hydrogen critic for many years. To do that, the hydrogen must be produced in ways that don't produce carbon dioxide. Heavy-duty trucks can be powered by hydrogen thanks to improvements in fuel cells and companies are preparing to compete in that space. The companies say that hydrogen vehicles can be refueled in about the same time as it takes for a diesel truck, and that they aren't as heavy as the massive battery packs needed for a semi-truck to travel hundreds of miles.

Hydrogen's inefficiency as a source of electric power is one of the main criticisms of the fuel. The amount of energy required to make it, compress or liquify it and transport it to where it will be used is more than what is left to power a vehicle. The cost of materials used to make fuel cells, including precious metals like Platinum, that turn hydrogen into electric power, and their long-term durability have been stumbling blocks in the past, but fuel cell developers say those issues are being addressed by advances in materials used. While batteries are more efficient for storing energy in vehicles or on the grid, they are less suited for large-scale power storage. They need more high-cost raw materials, including nickel, nickel, cobalt and manganese.


The co-CEOs are Michael, Jonathan, and Timothy.


The history of the company goes back to the start of the glassworks that made beer bottles for the brewery. The public entity created with the 2005 merger of the Adolph Coors Company and Canada's Molson is now owned by the Coors family. According to Timothy Coors, who leads the company with his cousins Jonathan and Michael, the company has annual revenues of over $1 billion.

See: Inside The Coors Family's Secretive Ceramics Business Worth Billions.

The company's global operations provide a broad range of engineered ceramics for everything from makers of semiconductors, auto parts, electric vehicle and battery components to medical joint replacements and even military body armor and armor for aircraft and vehicles.

We have broken down our markets into areas that we want to grow aggressively in, areas that we are going to grow optimistically, and those that we are going to grow profitable. Hydrogen, like the company's efforts on batteries and electric vehicle components, falls into that optimistic category.

“We have this massive natural gas infrastructure already. So rather than create a new grid, we see an advantage in a system that can work with the one we have.”

Timoth Coors, CoorsTek co-CEO

In the case of its new ceramic protons to make hydrogen, natural gas would flow through its cylindrical generators to create the fuel for use on-site, most likely installed. The creation of a hydrogen fueling network for trucks and other types of vehicles could be accelerated with the use of the proton ceramic membranes at fuel stations fed by natural gas. If hydrogen has to be trucked to where it will be used, the ability to make fuel on-site would reduce energy requirements.

The future of hydrogen as a clean fuel is dependent on energy efficiency, according to a chemical engineer at a company.

The carbon dioxide can be easily captured and either sequestered or used for other industrial processes, according to Coors. Making hydrogen from electrolysis is appealing because there is no carbon dioxide to contend with, and it may only be a good option in places where both renewable electricity and water are abundant.


The name of the company is CoorsTek.

He said that hydrogen generation through electrolysis has a place in this world, but that it takes a lot of energy to split the hydrogen from the oxygen. Whether we store it in a form of hydrogen electrolysis or a battery is going to play a role.

We already have this massive natural gas infrastructure, so we want to take advantage of it. We see an advantage in a system that can work with the one we have, rather than creating a new grid.