The French startup 45-8 Energy, dedicated to the exploration and local production of an eco-friendly helium, has just successfully completed its first round of financing for 1.3 million euros. Nicolas Pélissier, one of the company’s founders and chairman, believes in this very buoyant market that is driving the energy transition in many ways.
Thirteen private and public European investors have decided to support and accompany startup 45-8 Energy in its locavorous and virtuous exploration of the European subsoil in search of helium, which it then wishes to produce and develop. This is a step expected by the team, which today comprises of ten people based in Metz. “Before launch, we set aside 5 to 6 years of research and development, which today occupies about 80% of our time and implies that projects are financed upstream” explains Nicolas Pélissier, 36, a geological engineer and co-founder of 45-8 Energy with Benoît Hauville.
A business that’s hard to pitch
The product of 45-8 Energy is not the simplest to sell in start-up events because it is “very technical. Moreover, Nicolas Pélissier says it himself: “we don’t like to pitch too much because our project is not accessible or explainable in five sentences”. To successfully raise funding, Nicolas, Benoît and his three partners drew up a solid business plan and drew on their in-depth knowledge of the global helium market.
“Eco-responsibility isn’t just a green veneer, it’s this idea of being able to act on the state of the planet.”
Nicolas Pélissier knows these world leaders well since he worked for more than 10 years at Total in oil exploration abroad. The choices of a tech startup like 45-8 Energy may seem ambitious at first. Statistically, these startups often end up being bought out by the same groups that they have challenged with their boldness, flexibility and disruptive vision of established processes. At 45-8 Energy, we don’t hide the fact: “The 2014 crisis has put many people in the oil industry on the back burner,” he explains, “they have been thinking about new energy explorations, especially in the USA. We’ve added the Locavore Rope. Eco-responsibility isn’t just a green veneer, it’s this idea of being able to act on the state of the planet that made me leave Total to create my own path and perhaps, in the long run, act at the heart of these major groups. “Complementary? Avant-garde? In any case, very well informed about the state of the market?
A fast-growing market
100% of the helium consumed in Western Europe is imported from the United States, Qatar and Algeria at high energy costs. In 2018, this represented 31 million cubic meters, the second largest market in the world with nearly 19% of consumption. Helium is therefore strategic for the European Union because the market has yet to be created and so far no local exploration projects have been set up. It is also a gas that is difficult to transport, unless it is converted into a liquid state, which requires costly and environmentally unfriendly processes. Non-synthesizable, helium is used in aerospace, as a propellant in automobile airbags, as a lifting gas for environmentally friendly transport solutions (such as airships), in TV and smartphone screens, and in the medical industry (cooling gas in MRIs and in respiratory assistance mixed with oxygen).
“We have the project to capture and valorize the active near-surface flows in a very compact, on-site, short-circuit plant.”
45-8 Energy is developing a membrane gas separation system to replace energy-intensive liquefaction and wants to limit transport by locally producing (between 300 and 500 km maximum) in clean production units. Until now, helium deposits have always been found by chance through natural gas. “Our innovation is twofold: we are discovering European helium, for Europeans, i.e. in a short circuit, but also creating European exploration co-products such as natural hydrogen or CO2, for industrial use in a transitional system”. 45-8 Energy is currently working on an associated helium exploration project in the Nièvre region on a CO2 well. “We have the project to capture and valorize the active near-surface flows in a very compact, on-site, short-circuit plant. With our processes, we avoid the formation of greenhouse gases. We have to stop exploring unprofitable and devastating mono-products. On some co-development projects, such as natural hydrogen and helium, which are often located in the same deposits, we will be into positive and green energy production, which is very rare in the industry! »
The startup plans to resell its production to large companies that already have customers (Air Liquide, Westfallen, editor’s note) and does not refrain from marketing its production directly in order to control its margins and choose its customers based on ethical criteria.
Where does the name 45-8 Energy come from?
– Nicolas Pélissier and Benoît Hauville, the two main co-founders of 45-8 Energy did their geological engineering studies together, and made their debut on Parisian soil, whose rock dates back to the age of the Lutetian, 45.8 million years ago.
– 45.8 in geographical coordinates (45 of latitude, 8 of longitude) corresponds to the middle of Europe… A wink to their positioning which consists in exploring and producing helium in Europe, for Europe.
– Finally, strategically, it is a name in figures enables them to be systematically positioned at the top of the listings in directories, and trade show listings, etc…
Photo: Nicolas Pélissier, Co-founder of 45-8 Energy © 45-8 Energy