New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

NB Power spent more than $178K US on Florida lab this year

NB Power has spent more than $178,000 US to run a lab in Florida at the home of Joi Scientific, a company that claims to have found an efficient way to convert seawater to hydrogen.

The lab, opened to work on Joi Scientific's technology, will cost New Brunswickers until the end of January

NB Power has been paying for lab space at the Space Life Sciences Lab in Merritt Island, Fla., where Joi Scientific is headquartered. (Karissa Donkin/CBC)

NB Power has spent more than $178,000 US this year to run a lab in Florida at the home of Joi Scientific, a company that claims to have found an efficient way to convert seawater to hydrogen.

But the lab may not be open for much longer, as questions swirl about whether Joi Scientific's technology works as previously described.

NB Power spent $178,413 US (about $237,325 Cdn) on costs associated with the lab, according to records obtained by CBC through access to information. The records capture costs between February, when NB Power opened the lab, up to Oct. 16, 2019.

The biggest expense in running the Florida lab has been the $42,372 US for standard lab equipment, followed by  $38,694 US for support staff.

The records don't specify how many people were considered support staff or how many people may have been brought in to work in the lab.

Other costs included instrumentation, H2 specific equipment, a work station and rent and utilities at the facility, located at the Space Life Sciences Lab at the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Fla., where Joi Scientific is headquartered.

Two former Joi Scientific employees interviewed by CBC News have raised questions about Joi's technology, saying it doesn't work as previously described.

Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland has also said there's no proof Joi's technology is viable.

Earlier this month, Holland said the NB Power lab in Florida will continue to stay open until the end of 2019, as a final test is underway to determine the technology's viability.

"Once [the test is] completed, either you send me somebody from MIT who says, 'Eureka!' or it didn't deliver the results and then we wrap things up," Holland said on CBC New Brunswick's Political Panel in November.

NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas posed with Joi Scientific executives Robert Koeneman and Traver Kennedy on a beach in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The utility has a multimillion-dollar licensing agreement with Joi Scientific. (Joi Scientific)

A spokesperson for Joi Scientific did not respond to an interview request on Wednesday before deadline.

Last month, Joi's vice-president of marketing, Vicky Harris, acknowledged the company has "encountered delays and technical challenges" but is working through them. Her emailed statement didn't elaborate on those delays or 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 from November said.

NB Power spent $13 million Cdn to license Joi's technology, with the help of the Regional Development Corporation.

Obligation to pay for lab until end of January

NB Power planned to keep the Florida lab operating "until we can make a decision whether we can go forward or not," NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas told CBC News last month. He said the utility was doing that to ensure it could recoup some of the investment it made in Joi's technology.

But the utility hasn't budgeted any money for its Florida lab in the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to documents the utility filed with the Energy and Utilities Board on Tuesday.

"NB Power is obligated to make payments related to the lab space and related equipment until the end of January 2020," the documents say.

"The payment for January 2020 is US$16,717. There are no other continuing obligations. NB Power will maintain the licensing rights should there be no further testing or funding by NB Power."

Public intervener Heather Black asked NB Power several questions about its Joi Scientific initiative. (CBC)

After NB Power's latest rate application, New Brunswick's public intervener, Heather Black, asked the utility to provide Joi Scientific's "most recent evaluation of the technology and its potential economic viability."

But in its response, NB Power said it couldn't answer those questions "due to strict confidentiality requirements."

Third-party testing

In response to a question from Black about whether NB Power has decided to "pull the plug" on the initiative, NB Power said Joi's "technology is producing hydrogen from seawater," but the utility didn't provide further details.

"Additional testing is scheduled in the December time frame which will determine future direction," NB Power wrote in its filing.

In a separate filing, the EUB asked the utility whether outside experts were asked to help evaluate the investment in Joi Scientific.

"With respect to the Joi Scientific initiative, NB Power had access to third party validation testing," NB Power wrote in response.

An unidentified employee works in the lab in one of Joi Scientific's promotional videos. NB Power has not budgeted for its lab space in Florida for the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to documents filed with the Energy and Utilities Board. (Joi Scientific/YouTube)

"NB Power also engaged its own third party to conduct testing."

The utility has never identified the third party that may have validated the testing and hasn't released copies of the those tests, citing a confidentiality agreement signed with Joi Scientific.

Both the public intervener and NB Power declined requests for interviews about the utility's EUB filings.

Do you have a tip about this story? Please click here to get in touch.

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.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.