Successful performance test of natural Albany graphite versus synthetic graphite in a Ballard fuel cell stack; potential cost reduction
Zenyatta Ventures Ltd. and Ballard Power Systems announced the successful performance testing of high-purity Albany graphite in components of a Ballard fuel cell stack. This Phase 4 testing program was designed to show viability of Zenyatta’s Albany graphite compared to synthetic graphite under realistic fuel cell operating conditions.
The membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which includes the gas diffusion layer (GDL), is a critical component of a PEM fuel cell that must meet exacting performance standards for the fuel cell to be robust and reliable. Ballard prototyped GDLs from Zenyatta graphite—which included an anode and cathode sub layer—and then incorporated it into a MEA that was tested in a fuel cell stack to characterize fuel cell performance.
Zenyatta natural graphite material was prototyped, tested and compared for key mechanical and electrical properties against Ballard’s baseline synthetic graphite in a commercial product platform.
The properties of Zenyatta’s Albany graphite material were all within the specifications needed for high performance of Ballard products in a number of commercial fuel cell applications. The components made from Albany graphite were equivalent to the existing synthetic graphite components. Zenyatta called the results another step in the process of qualifying Zenyatta’s Albany graphite for existing fuel cell markets in transportation and stationary energy storage.
From an environmental and cost advantage, the Ballard report also concluded:
Zenyatta graphite provides a clean carbon option for fuel cell components (i.e. plates and membrane electrode assembly).
If Zenyatta’s hydrothermal graphite can also be low cost compared to existing synthetic graphite, it will facilitate fuel cell cost reduction and market penetration.
Synthetic graphite is not only used in major components of fuel cells, but also many other applications such as the manufacture of anodes for lithium-ion batteries and the fabrication of high-purity graphite powder into complex industrial parts. It is a large and high value global market (~US$15 Billion) that is growing rapidly. However, the cost to produce synthetic graphite is high and its production also has significant environmental impacts.
Zenyatta has shown an estimated operating cost of ~US$2 per kilogram for purified Albany graphite in the preliminary economic assessment and can also potentially show a significant environmental advantage over synthetic graphite.
This is the fourth round of successful test results which continue to prove the suitability of Albany graphite in an exciting and high growth cleantech application like fuel cells. We are extremely pleased with the progress and Ballard’s involvement in testing the viability of Albany graphite in this application. It is very important to note that the material being tested by Ballard was ‘run-of-the-lab’ Albany graphite material produced with no special processing or customization for these tests.—Bharat Chahar, VP Market Development, Zenyatta
Given the positive results from this Phase 4 testing, Zenyatta and Ballard will study the scale up of various fuel cell components made from Albany graphite and develop plans to carry out additional rigorous testing specifically related to automotive applications.
Background. Zenyatta Ventures discovered the largest and very rare ultra high-purity graphite deposit in Northern Ontario called the Albany Graphite Deposit. Zenyatta’s deposit contains the largest and only high purity hydrothermal (volcanic in nature) graphite mineralization being developed in the world.
The Albany Graphite Deposit comprises two vertical, carrot-shaped breccia (a rock that is a mixture of angular fragments from different types of rocks surrounded by a fine-grained matrix) pipes which have been determined to extend to a minimum of 500 m; both are open at depth. The deposit has no surface expression as it is overlain by muskeg, glacial till and Paleozoic carbonate rocks of the James Bay Lowlands.
Graphite occurs in the matrix as disseminated crystals, crystal aggregates and veins, as well as along crystal boundaries and as small veins penetrating the breccia fragments. The deposit is interpreted as near-surface volcanic vent breccias that formed during the ascent of carbon-rich fluids (carbon dioxide and methane) that separated from the alkalic magmas of the Albany Alkalic Complex.
The hydrothermal graphite deposit can be upgraded with very good crystallinity without the use of aggressive acids and high temperature thermal treatment. Zenyatta also discovered an easy and environmentally friendly process that consist of grinding, floating and caustic treatment using sodium hydroxide. The company has been able to achieve a carbon purity result of >99.9% in bench-scale tests, using this proprietary and environmentally safe method of purification.
Zenyatta started Phase 1 testing of Albany graphite for fuel cell components in early 2015 with an initial screening by the National Research Council of Canada and Ballard Power Systems. Test results released in March of 2015 showed the Albany graphite to be suitable for hydrogen fuel cell components.
A Phase 2 testing program by Ballard was initiated immediately afterward and announced in August of 2015. This revealed that Albany graphite exhibits high thermal and corrosion resistance properties. High thermal stability and corrosion resistance is critical in the performance of certain fuel cell components.
The results of a Phase 3 program were released by Zenyatta in December 2015. All functional tests completed at that time showed the properties of Zenyatta’s Albany graphite to be as good as the benchmark synthetic graphite presently used by Ballard in fuel cell technology. These positive results led Ballard to incorporate Zenyatta material into a fuel cell stack in order to test it under realistic operating environments.