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