Powerhouse Energy (PHE) is a company which I have previously been very negative on, and rightly so given its performance over the past few years. The company specialises in waste-to-energy production, either in the form of generating electricity or producing hydrogen for fuel cells, but in the past its gasification technology has failed to really take off in the way that investors had hoped.
It had also been debt-ridden in the past, with lender Hillgrove holding a debenture over the assets of the company, but back in February 2017 it managed to raise £2.5 million, which was enough to settle the outstanding £2 million that it owed and it is now debt-free and looks to be in a healthier position. A remaining amount owed to Hillgrove was settled via shares at 0.5p at the end of January. Whilst I wouldn’t exactly be rushing to put my life savings in here, I do like the idea of the technology and if it is able to deliver this time around than I can see upside potential, especially considering the sector in which it is operating. But whether it can prove that it really has turned things around now still remains to be seen.
Powerhouse certainly does seem to be making progress though, with an extended trial of its G3-UHt gasification unit, with old tyres being used to produce syngas that contained in excess of 50% hydrogen, and no carbon di-oxide. Testing has now been underway for more than six months and the unit has been performing as expected with a feedstock of plastics, and it will now be hooked up to the micro electrical grid at Thornton Science Park to see how it handles supporting its heating and power plant.
As long as everything goes to plan with the testing, and the company is able to prove that there is demand for the product, which hasn’t been evident in the past with previous systems, then it could have timed things just right when it comes to getting these units into production. Waste plastic is a hot topic at the moment and a lot of time and money is going into finding ways to deal with this problem. The beauty of the Powerhouse units is that it will actually get paid – typically between £50-£90 per tonne – to take plastic, and at the other end will then be able to sell the electricity produced, or eventually the hydrogen fuel.
Hydrogen fuel is still at a relatively early stage, but it looks set to really take off as EU countries look to convert more vehicles over to run on hydrogen – for example, out of the 8,500 buses in London, currently only 23 run on hydrogen, and there is also interest in converting lorries and other forms of transport as well.
It isn’t just the EU that is looking to go down this route, and Powerhouse currently has a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Qatar to look into providing these systems to provide fuel for filling stations catering for fuel cell vehicles ahead of the World Cup in 2022. Although I wouldn’t put too much trust in a MOU at this stage, as often for these smaller companies they aren’t worth the paper they are written on, and the potential for any deals still remains to be seen.
In terms of the economics, the company estimates that a single site can process at least 25 tonnes of plastics per day – and as much as 100 tonnes potentially – and that would produce hydrogen worth £5,000 per day, plus a minimum of £2,000 per day to take the plastic, so that would give annual revenue of at least £2.5 million per site. It is also working alongside Waste2tricity Limited and has developed a ‘CORE’ version of its system, with Powerhouse receiving a 20% licence fee from any units sold, alongside any revenue from its participation in these ventures.
The company doesn’t burn through excessive amounts of cash when compared to other similar sized companies, at typically around £70,000 per month, and salaries don’t appear to be particularly high. The last set of annual accounts for 2016 showed that CEO Keith Allaun took a salary of just £66,000. The risks here are that the company won’t be able to sell any of its units, nor be able to expand rapidly enough to take advantage of this market as it grows quickly in the coming years even if it does manage some sales. There is also always a danger of better technology being launched by its competitors, as this looks set to be a huge market in the future.
On the positive side though, if it can finally prove that there is market demand for its product, then there is plenty of potential for it to grow. I view this company as very speculative, in a similar way to investing in any very early stage technology often is, and this market is still very much in its infancy. Currently it is valued at around £7.6 million at a share price of 0.52p, and I can see potential for anyone who likes the idea of the technology, or who usually invests in higher risk oil and mining companies, and is looking for something a bit different but with similar levels of risk. It was one of my picks in the recent Dragons Den sessions at the UK Investor Show.
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