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UK Carbon Trust to invest £1M in ACAL Energy as part of Polymer Fuel Cell Challenge; longer-term focus on automotive applications

Flowcath
Overview of the FlowCath system. Source: ACAL. Click to enlarge.

The UK’s Carbon Trust has selected ACAL Energy, the developer of FlowCath low-platinum liquid cathode technology (earlier post), for a £1-million (US$1.6-million) investment as part of its Polymer Fuel Cell Challenge.

Detailed Carbon Trust analysis, based on a US Department of Energy model, has shown that the ACAL liquid catalyst technology has the potential to cut system costs, once in mass production, by up to 40% while potentially increasing durability. The Carbon Trust says that ACAL Energy’s new approach could make hydrogen fuel cells affordable enough to be used in mass market applications such as cars, supporting the emergence of a global industry estimated by some analysts to be worth more than £180 billion (US$288 billion) by 2050.

ACAL Energy’s low-cost liquid catalyst achieves the same performance of expensive platinum catalysts while offering lower costs and reduced system complexity. Based on current fuel cell technology, an average fuel cell family car would require 2-3 ounces of platinum in a fuel cell, with many car manufacturers striving to reduce this to 1 ounce through design engineering of currently available fuel cell technology.

With platinum priced in the current market at about US$1,800 per ounce, ACAL’s cathode technology, which removes the need for 90% of the platinum from the system, has the potential to deliver a significant cost saving.

FlowCath replaces the fixed platinum catalysts on the cathode with a liquid regenerating catalyst system. Hydrogen is catalyzed on the anode in the conventional fashion. However unlike conventional technology, the electron and proton are absorbed into a solution containing redox catalyst systems, which flow continuously from the stack to an external regeneration vessel.

In the regenerator, the “catholyte” comes into contact with air and the electron, proton and oxygen from air react to form water, which exits the regenerator as vapor. The catholyte then flows back to the cell.

We believe ACAL’s transformational approach is one of the biggest breakthroughs in fuel cell technology since the 1980s when fuel cells moved from the space programme to industrial applications. In one step, ACAL’s technology solves fundamental issues of cost and performance which the fuel cell industry has been trying to overcome for the past 20 years, in particular for automotive products, which are the most challenging applications for fuel cells.

We are backing a British company that is taking on the world. Its step-change fuel cell technology can be produced at scale and deliver major cost reductions—which could make affordable, fuel cell cars a reality for the first time.”

—Dr. Robert Trezona, Research Accelerator Director at the Carbon Trust

While ACAL will initially offer products for use in stationary power applications, our longer-term focus remains automotive. We are very grateful for the support given to us by the Carbon Trust, not only in this program, but over the last several years.

—Dr. S.B. Cha, CEO of ACAL Energy

The Carbon Trust’s Polymer Fuel Cell Challenge was launched in 2009 to deliver the critical reduction in fuel cell system costs that must be achieved to make mass market deployment a reality. An extensive search was undertaken to find breakthrough technology capable of reducing system costs by over a third at mass-produced scales. The project will commence in the coming weeks following completion of contracts.

ACAL Energy’s application, one of 14, was put under scrutiny by the Carbon Trust and a panel of international experts with more than 100 years of combined experience in fuel cell technology.

ACAL’s current near term focus, backed by Venture Capital investments including the Carbon Trust’s own fund, is on stationary fuel cell products. This additional investment through the Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge will allow ACAL to explore earlier-stage but potentially transformative technologies for longer-term automotive products.

In January, ACAL Energy and its development partners put the ground works in place to install the first FlowCath fuel cell technology system to be used in a practical application at Solvay Interox Ltd.

The field trial system is planned for installation in summer 2011, and will provide critical back-up power for an environmental remediation plant. The installation is designed to help ACAL Energy and its partners to understand exactly how a back-up power system powered by its FlowCath fuel cell engine power module will operate in a real application. The technology is expected significantly to reduce the balance of plant costs by eliminating the need for hydration, pressurization, separate cooling and other mechanical sub-systems commonly required when using conventional PEM fuel cells.

In the meantime, ACAL Energy is completing the low cost design and validation activity in its new laboratory testing facilities, with the support of partners including Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells, UPS Systems plc, the University of Southampton and the Manufacturing Engineering Centre at Cardiff University.

This marked the latest stage of a project announced last year and partly funded by the Technology Strategy Board. Solvay Interox Ltd last summer put in place the hydrogen fuel supply and infrastructure ready for installation of the back-up power unit.

Comments

HarveyD

An affordable FC without cost being mentioned? Will it be light and under $50/Kw?

Henry Gibson

Individual sodium sulphur cells are also fuel cells with the fuels contained in the container of the cell, but at least one of the fuels actually move from the container part of the cell to another.

With a tank of sodium and a tank of sulphur and a tank for the product, a single cell could supply a lot of energy over even a period of years if there was very good insulation for the tanks and heaters.

Imagine a locomotive with three tanks: one for sulphur, one for Sodium and one for the product sodium-sulphide A pump moves sodium into the sodium chamber of the cells, and the sodium-beta-alumina electrolyte moves sodium ions through itself but forces the electrons through the electrical connection of the sodium through the motors and to the sulphur electrode. Three tank cars could follow the locomotive. The product tank would be drained at a stop where electricity was available to process it; it could be recycled in an inverse fuel cell and the sodium and sulphur tanks would be filled with recovered material already reprocessed with cheap night electricity.

Multiple battery cars could follow an electric locomotive as an alternative. The battery cars would have control circuitry and wheel motors and behave like locomotives under the control of a lead locomotive; they could also be individually controlled. The GE Durathon version of the the ZEBRA battery could compete with the NGK sodium sulphur battery or the new owners of the ZEBRA battery. All that is required to make the ZEBRA battery and its relatives much cheaper, is mass production.

Individual sodium sulphur cells in Dewar flasks could be rented for the power for an electric bicycle or for an electric energy source for the power battery.

Wind turbines on remote islets or even anchored wind ships could turn sodium sulphide into sodium and sulphur for later collection. Forget hydrogen which needs pressure tanks. The pure sodium metal could be produced from sea water alone and used in a sodium fuel cell to provide electricity for the electrolytic production of hydrogen or more quickly and inefficiently produce it by direct combination. It would be little less efficient to do that in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle than to use electrolysis with coal fired electricity and compression to provide a tank of hydrogen for such hydrogen fuel cells.
..HG..

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