June 9, 2023

Alum-founded company changes the game for hydrogen storage

UCeed Energy Fund gives transformative startup a leg up
CEO and founder of Ayrton Energy, Natasha Kostenuk.
CEO and founder of Ayrton Energy, Natasha Kostenuk. Samantha Lafleur

A startup supported by a University of Calgary initiative is reinventing how hydrogen is stored.

Mechanical engineering alumna Natasha Kostenuk, BSc (Eng)’02, with her partner, Dr. Brandy Kinkead, PhD, a former research associate and postdoctoral scholar, founded Ayrton Energy in 2021 in hopes of creating an easier and more cost-effective way of storing and transporting hydrogen. Right now, the process involves expensive equipment and infrastructure and uses a lot of energy to keep the gas stored at high pressure or cryogenically liquefied.

“Our vision of the company is to see hydrogen everywhere,” says Kostenuk. “We want to see hydrogen fuel cells as common as solar panels today.”  

Toward that goal, Ayrton Energy’s technology safely stores hydrogen in a liquid carrier, allowing it to be stored at room temperature in existing tank trucks that would traditionally be used in the oil and gas industry. This will allow current infrastructure to be used during the shift to the more environmentally friendly hydrogen option.

Ayrton Energy is the first startup backed by UCalgary's newest early-stage investment fund, UCeed Energy. UCeed supports startup companies during the transitional stage between the creation of a concept and commercialization, and is funded entirely through philanthropy and managed by Innovate Calgary.

The UCeed Energy Fund aims to help strengthen the country’s energy sector through Canadian-led innovations and is another example of UCalgary’s commitment to leveraging research and innovation to address significant global and societal challenges.

The $3.75-million UCeed Energy Fund is made possible through the philanthropic support of Calgary entrepreneur and community leader Don Archibald, with additional philanthropic support from the Tamaratt Fund at the Calgary Foundation, and funding from UCalgary’s Global Research Initiative.

“We are grateful to all of our investors because they are very important to our growth as a company,” says Kostenuk. With their strong connections in the tech ecosystem here in the local community, UCeed is able to support us as we grow our team and develop our technology towards commercialization. They even helped get us space for the team to work from.”

Kostenuk says she looks forward to using the investment and support to further grow Ayrton Energy and contribute to the economic growth of Alberta and Canada in the long term. The company currently has a team of six and is looking to hire more employees soon.

“With the UCeed investment, as well as our other investors, we are growing our team and hiring people local to Calgary, so we are contributing to the Calgary economy by creating jobs,” she says. “Our long-term growth plan is to see our company stay and grow with headquarters here in Alberta. Eventually we want to manufacture our technology here, so we can continue to give back to the same community that is helping us now.” 

Beyond technological innovation, this woman-led startup pays tribute to past trailblazers by its very name. The name Ayrton comes from Hertha Ayrton, who was a pioneering scientist in the early 1900s who studied electricity. Kostenuk says she and Kinkead felt it was important to pay tribute to this great female scientist who helped pave the way for others.

UCeed is a group of philanthropically powered, commercially minded pre-seed/seed-stage investment funds, accelerating UCalgary and community-based startup companies to advance problem-solving research, create jobs and fuel the economy. A key program in the UCalgary innovation ecosystem, UCeed bridges the gap between innovation, demonstration and commercialization. UCeed is managed by UCalgary’s knowledge-transfer and business incubator, Innovate Calgary.   

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