Fuelling the global appetite for the zero-emission transition
Christopher Boyle has a succinct description for what his business, Fabrum, does: technology that enables humanity to do more, using less, for longer.
He also has the very personal aspiration of wanting his grandchildren to know he has made a difference to the future of the planet – and along the way have every truck that uses liquid hydrogen equipped with one of his tanks.
Boyle and Hugh Reynolds are the co-founders of Fabrum, a Christchurch-based company formed in 2004 and now considered a world leader in the green hydrogen industry. It supplies small to medium liquefaction systems and composite cryogenic vessels used in heavy transport, mining and aviation industries.
Fabrum’s evolution has been entwined with Callaghan Innovation since its inception when Canterbury University engineering graduates Boyle and Reynolds recognised the industry potential of cryocoolers – exotic refrigerators that operated at extremely low temperatures, but had a reputation for unreliability.
Callaghan Innovation was also working on solving the reliability issue at the time, so a partnership was inevitable.
“They gave us the idea and we worked with them for two years to make it manufacturable. In doing that we transferred the technology into our organisation and took on some Callaghan Innovation employees. We set up a long-term research relationship that we still have today,” says Boyle.
“Callaghan Innovation has exceptionally talented people that can be deployed into problems and deliver solutions without distraction.”
Fabrum began by working with the power market but, as Boyle puts it, “suddenly the rest of the world came at us”.
“This huge market opened up. There was demand from the health sector, animal husbandry, hi-tech industries, research universities and so on.”
And then, in 2014 Boyle got an email from NASA. “So we built them a project for a Mars lander so they could take CO2 and break it down into carbon and oxygen for refuelling rockets on the return flights.”
Now the company is working on onboard liquid hydrogen fuel tanks for aviation, which are undergoing the first stage of certification in the United Kingdom.
As Fabrum has grown, so too has the demand for alternatives to fossil fuels. Boyle says the Fabrum team pride themselves on making a significant contribution to supporting global change.
The ability to dream and create something is a really significant piece of distinct New Zealand capability."
“Bringing capability and talent together to develop world-leading technology that will genuinely enable a global shift to sustainable transportation and industry has been our core purpose.”
Callaghan Innovation has also supported Fabrum’s research and development over the years, which Boyle says has enabled the company to determine its own research direction.
In February, Fabrum announced it had secured $23 million of capital from world-leading strategic investors (including the likes of Fortescue Future Industries and Obayashi Corporation), which will be used to build a new facility in Christchurch to scale up its manufacturing capacity. The company intends to grow to about 50 staff in the next 12 months.
“The future for us is to have one of our systems on every single hydrogen activity globally. And while we’re very proud of what we’re doing, we’re only just at the start. There’s so much more to do.”
If that seems daunting almost 20 years since Fabrum was established, Boyle has some commonsense advice for startups: engage internationally as quickly as possible but don’t assume you have to get the answer offshore. Also avoid distraction, collaborate and pour effort into research.
“I say to my guys here, we create stuff the world doesn’t even know they need yet. And because of that expect 20 out of 21 days to be failures – but really enjoy that 21st day.”
Boyle saves his highest accolade for his co-founder, Reynolds.
“He is an example of what I would call a quintessential New Zealand innovator. We talk about this number-eight wire mentality here, which can be interpreted to mean we’re rough and ready.
But I think the point has been lost. The point is, that in the absence of anything, the ability to dream and create something is a really significant piece of distinct New Zealand capability.”
At a glance
- Founded in 2004
- Founded by Christopher Boyle (CEO) and Hugh Reynolds
- Based in Christchurch
- Supplier of small to medium liquefaction systems and composite cryogenic vessels used in heavy transport, mining and aviation industries
- $23 million capital raise this year, estimated $250 million valuation
- Visit website
Callaghan Innovation impact
- Scientific expertise to develop cryocooler technology and commercialisation
- RDTI, Innovation IP assistance, Student and Growth grants
- Long-term research relationship