Ambrish Kumar (MSE MEng candidate) didn’t expect to win when he made his pitch for net-zero hydrogen production at the Falling Walls Lab Toronto this past August — but he did just that.
“I was working on Nanodes, the startup I co-founded with Rutvik Solanki (UTIAS MEng 2T3) and Siva Subramaniam (UTIAS MEng 2T2) at The Entrepreneurship Hatchery, when one of my advisors told me about Falling Walls and the chance to present in Berlin, Germany,” he says.
“By the time I presented at the Toronto event, I had practiced my pitch so many times because of my Hatchery experience. Still, winning felt so great. Getting validation for an idea I’ve worked so hard on was especially motivating.”
Kumar’s winning pitch, Breaking the Wall of Green Hydrogen Production, made the case for Nanodes, which reduces the high-cost of net-zero hydrogen produced through electrolysis.
“Hydrogen will play a very important role in reducing carbon emissions in hard-to-abate industries, such as steel, ammonia and transportation, which rely on fossil fuels,” says Kumar, whose MEng is supervised by Professor Hani Naguib (MSE).
“To reach our net-zero goals, it’s imperative that we use hydrogen from electrolysis, which is made using electricity from renewable sources and water.”
Most of the world’s hydrogen is currently made using a process called steam-methane reforming. While it is the cheapest source of industrial hydrogen, it produces eight to 10 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen produced.
Kumar says Nanodes’ electrolyzer, which is enabled by a nanotechnology-based catalyst, offers a cost-efficient solution for industries.
“We can make much more hydrogen per square unit of electrolyzer than our competitors. And since our electrolyzers are more efficient, we require less electricity to make that hydrogen. This in turn, reduces the cost of green hydrogen production,” he says.
Hosted by the University of Toronto and sponsored by the Department of Cell & Systems Biology, Life Sciences Ontario and the Ontario Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Falling Walls Lab Toronto was open to university students and recent graduates.
Fifteen presenters had three minutes to convince three judges — from U of T, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science and the Noetic Fund — to select their innovative idea as the winner. The prize included a trip to Berlin — including travel and accommodations — to present their pitch at the global Falling Walls Lab finale on November 7.
“Three presentations stood above the rest for their innovative approach and relevance to their discipline,” says Neil Macpherson, a research officer at the Department of Cell & Systems Biology, who organized the Toronto event with PhD candidate Rebecca Tam (Cell & Systems Biology).
“In a close competition, Ambrish made it to the top through presenting his ideas clearly, answering questions well and foremost by engaging with the audience.
“I hope that Ambrish, and future winners, make international connections and friendships to grow their innovations and bring Canadian excellence to the world.”
In September, Kumar and his Nanodes co-founders participated in the Hatchery’s Demo Week — the culmination of its four-month NEST program, where student-led startups work towards commercial viability. Nanodes was selected as one of 16 teams to move on to the Go-To-Market stage.
“The Hatchery gave us a great platform to present our work along with a professional atmosphere to grow,” Kumar says. “Our advisors were insightful and really pushed us to achieve our goals. I’m excited for Nanodes’ next steps.”
Kumar carried this momentum into November, travelling to Berlin for the Falling Walls Lab finale, which he called an unparalleled learning opportunity.
“I got to hear so many brilliant ideas and meet so many people. I was told that 2,300 participants from 96 countries took part in Falling Walls events around the world, and 100 people from 70 countries were selected to come to Berlin,” he says.
“The feeling of pitching was also exciting: I got the hang of how to speak in front of a big crowd, and how to tackle nervousness.
“It made me realize that pitching is just like sales: an idea must have merit, of course, but the way you deliver your message — clearly and with confidence — is also key to making an impact.”