New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

NB Power won't spend any more money on Joi Scientific

NB Power has agreed not to spend future money on Joi Scientific's hydrogen technology, following a recommendation from the province's minister of natural resources and energy development.

Minister says he hasn't been given any proof that Joi's hydrogen technology is viable

NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas posed with Joi Scientific executives Robert Koeneman and Traver Kennedy on a beach in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Joi Scientific)

NB Power has agreed not to spend future money on Joi Scientific's hydrogen technology and will close its Florida lab, following a recommendation from the province's minister of natural resources and energy development.

Joi Scientific claims to have found an efficient way to convert seawater to hydrogen, which would be a significant scientific breakthrough, but two former employees have told CBC News that it doesn't work as advertised.

"NB Power has indicated that they're dispatching with the final logistics of the lease arrangement that they have," Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland said in an interview on Tuesday.

"At that point, that will be the last of the financial obligations."

Joi Scientific received a $13 million licensing fee from NB Power, with $6.7 million from the the Regional Development Corporation. (Karissa Donkin/CBC)

The utility, along with the Regional Development Corporation, spent $13 million Cdn to license Joi's technology.

Earlier this year, Holland said he'd instructed NB Power to continue running its Florida lab while final tests were being performed in December.

On Tuesday, Holland said those tests have been delayed.

"At this particular moment, I have not been presented with any proof of viability," Holland said.

CBC News has contacted Joi Scientific for its response to the government's decision.

'Delays and technical challenges'

A November statement from Joi's vice-president of marketing, Vicky Harris, said the company was committed to working on its technology "in co-operation with our licensees, including NB Power."

The statement said the company has "encountered delays and technical challenges" but is working through them with partners. It didn't elaborate on those delays and technical challenges.

"We remain confident that Joi Scientific is on the right path to create a new, cost-effective, and clean energy source in the form of green hydrogen," the statement said.

Mike Holland, minister of natural resources and energy development, says he doesn't want to spend any more money on Joi Scientific. He says NB Power agreed with his recommendation. (Radio-Canada)

At an appearance in front of a legislative committee in November, NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas doubled down on the utility's decision to license the technology, saying it still had "potential."

But he said the company would decide whether to pull the plug on the project by the end of the calendar year or by the end of the fiscal year at the latest.

"Especially where we are now, we don't want to create expectation," Thomas said in November.

"But, obviously, if it doesn't prove out, we'll have to walk away and we'll be the first to come and tell that."

NB Power didn't immediately respond to an interview request for Thomas on Tuesday afternoon.

The Florida lab

In total, the lab has cost NB Power more than $178,000 US this year. 

The utility has also spent money on travel to Florida and contracted several companies to do testing and other work on Joi's technology. That work cost the utility at least $51,000, according to documents obtained by CBC News through access to information.

Two companies, Stantec and another company whose name was redacted from the documents, received between $25,000 and $100,000 to do work on the Joi project. Holland confirmed on Tuesday that NB Power will no longer spend money on that work either.

Holland said that he assumes the utility and Joi Scientific will continue to communicate and that Thomas will remain on the company's board, a position he doesn't receive compensation to hold.

"I have no issue with allowing a continued peek over the shoulder as things move forward," the minister said.

"In the event that there is something that comes out of it then, so be it."  

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

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