Companies collaborate on hydrogen fuel-cell development

Two UK companies are collaborating on the development of a hydrogen fuel cell that would be more efficient and cheaper to manufacture than conventional fuel cells.

With the help of a £500,000 grant from the Carbon Trust, ACAL Energy is hoping to combine technology from its low-cost proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell with technology from ITM Power’s high-power density fuel cell.

The next-generation fuel cell is expected to be ready for use in automotive applications after 2020.

Amanda Lyne, co-founder and strategic business development manager, said: ‘ACAL Energy’s fuel-cell technology is quite different to conventional PEM fuel-cell technology because we use a liquid redox catalyst system for the cathode. We get rid of about 80 per cent of the platinum as a consequence.’

This significant reduction in platinum is the key cost-reducing factor. ‘ACAL Energy’s fuel cell is about 40 per cent cheaper than the best mass-produced fuel cells of the future,’ said Lyne.

The collaborative effort will see ITM Power’s membrane electrode assembly (MEA) incorporated into ACAL Energy’s fuel cell to further enhance the efficiency and power density of its cell.

Graham Cooley, ITM Power’s chief executive officer, said: ‘The MEA is the unit that goes in the middle of the fuel cell. The hydrogen comes through one side, the oxygen comes through the other, and the MEA combines the two at the surface of a catalyst.’

According to Cooley, ITM Power’s MEA has been used to produce fuel cells with the highest power density ever recorded.

‘We have power densities of 2.1W/cm2 on air, which is about twice the power density you get when you use a conventional material.’