The Czech investor is betting on hydrogen. It provides companies with cars and mobile gas stations

The former director of the PPF group, Tomáš Budník, has been building his own investment group for two years, which has an IT and industrial branch. In the industrial part, he is currently working on the production of mobile hydrogen stations. They are to fill the period before the infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations in the Czech Republic, which is planned by the ministries in cooperation with private companies.

“I understand that our solution is not forever. When hydrogen technology takes hold, large manufacturers or companies like Unipetrol, which come from the oil industry, will build the infrastructure. But it will take about five to ten years. We want to take advantage of this transition period,” Tomáš Budník, the founder and owner of Thein, told SZ Byznys.

You start dealing with hydrogen. How did you get there?

In the industrial part of our group, the priority area for us is rail transport and energy engineering. And the locomotives, of course, run on diesel or electricity. We are talking about electrified routes, but of course if you have taken the train lately, there are still many regions that do not have electrification and there are motorbikes.

Thus, as in the automotive industry, ecology is addressed on the railways. And what to ride if not diesel?

So there are projects where production transporters are starting to think about how to replace diesel or extend its life. These may include technologies such as particulate filters and compliance standards for diesel locomotives. Or, say, redesigning hydrogen locomotives.

Of course, converting a locomotive to hydrogen is not about putting another internal combustion engine in place of an internal combustion engine. You first have to put a fuel cell in it and the locomotive is more or less electric. This fuel cell produces electricity.

So the impetus came from your customers, such as the locomotive manufacturer CZ Loko?

We started talking about the direction the development is taking now. Because you can have a prototype locomotive (by the way, ČD has now discussed that he will write a concept for a hydrogen locomotive), that’s the first thing. But you have to refuel the locomotive. And you have to craft it and transport it somewhere. And it is the integration of several technologies.

If someone wants to have hydrogen locomotives, buses or trucks, they have to be able to fill them up somewhere.

Tomáš Budník, founder of Thein investment group

We suddenly found ourselves in a situation where if someone wants to have hydrogen locomotives, buses or trucks, they have to be able to fill them up somewhere.

Tomas Budnik (52)

  • Czech manager and businessman
  • from 2014 to 2017 he was the CEO of O2 Czech Republic
  • in 2020 he founded the investment group Thein
  • graduated from Faculty of Mechanical Engineering VŠB-TU Ostrava

Gas stations are not there yet. For example, Ostrava industrialist Jan Světlík is known to have a hydrogen car, but he has to travel to Vienna to refuel.

There are only two hydrogen car manufacturers in passenger cars, Hyundai and Toyota. We have entered into agreements with manufacturers of mobile service stations. And think of these mobile gas stations as containers that take you somewhere to fill them with hydrogen. You will take them to the depot, where the locomotive or bus will then be refueled.

We thought we should help customers solve the drawdown.

Who manufactures mobile service stations?

We have an agreement with a German manufacturer of these filling stations and we are discussing with Packet or other customers so that they install such a filling station in their depots. Of course, it is up to them whether they will buy hydrogen from Pražská plynárenská or from another producer.

When we were discussing that we could also deliver a mobile gas station, other carriers suddenly approached us.

From my point of view, the technology is suitable for someone who moves between depots, in the Czech Republic it is, for example, the company Packeta or the national postal operator. Or simply municipalities that have transport companies that can go to the depot to refuel the buses.

So, for example, do you deal with Packet to provide them with a hydrogen car or a gas station?

We are negotiating with Packeta on a pilot project of a delivery and we are also negotiating the delivery of another fleet of vehicles and a service station as a service. Thein Industry has a partnership with a supply provider, so we were able to provide it (it’s a service, don’t buy it).

Why can’t the Packet just buy the van itself?

Today, it is not easy to obtain hydrogen cars according to specifications (usually delivery is available after ordering after one year). Companies do not have our contacts or our expertise.

Thein Group

  • investment group of manager and investor Tomáš Budník
  • focuses on technology companies in the field of ICT, cybersecurity and industry from the Czech Republic and Slovakia
  • The industrial part includes, for example, contract production of Ponec machine parts, supplier of spare parts for rolling stock maintenance, railway supplier, production of stainless steel components and welds for Cotring rolling stock, rental of Lokorent Services locomotives, development of hydrogen technologies.
  • the technological part includes, for example, the ICT infrastructure provider ebo Aitcom Network, as well as the IT technology sales and service CSystem or the platform provider Cross

How much does the van and gas station actually cost?

Today, the hydrogen car is at least at the same price level as a luxury electric car. For example, a delivery from Hyvia on the Renault platform costs around 120,000 euros (2.9 million crowns) depending on the equipment. The price of mobile gas stations is now around 1.5 to 1.8 million euros (36 to 44 million crowns).

Today we are able to help customers. In central Europe, they choose both a truck and a bus, or discuss tractors or forklifts on industrial sites. This is our competence, plus of course the service station itself.

In addition, we are preparing another project, and these are backup resources. I mean, a backup unit that is used in hospitals or industrial areas, for example. Where you need electricity but there is no infrastructure. Or you need backup power that lasts about two or four hours in the event of a power outage.

We have a manufacturer that already produces these backup sources today. You pour hydrogen into them and they generate electricity.

Tomáš Budník, founder of Thein investment group

Is there anything else you want to offer?

Yes. We have a manufacturer that already produces these backup sources today. You pour hydrogen into them and they generate electricity.

Tell me more, what is your added value when a German manufacturer makes it for you and you drop it on a Czech company?

Our added value is that we understand the ecosystem. We know how and when to choose and which technology.

Our ultimate goal is to negotiate cooperation with these manufacturers so that we can then produce most of the technology here. We carry out machining, welding and their combinations in our companies, even in co-production.

So we also have a specific agreement with Proton Motors, which is the European leader in fuel cells, and we can use their technology.

Now that you are testing the market, who would buy these portable gas stations?

Exactly. I understand that our solution is not eternal. When hydrogen technology takes hold, large manufacturers or companies like Unipetrol, which come from the oil industry, will build the infrastructure. But it will take about five to ten years. We want to take advantage of this transition period.

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