Fuel cells are stacks cheaper

A UK electro-chemical technology specialist said it has cleared several hurdles in its bid to bring a range of cheaper fuel cells to the commercial marketplace.

ITM Power of Cambridgeshire has unveiled details of technical breakthroughs in its development of an electrolyser stack and new lower cost materials for fuel cell applications.

The company has claimed its technology is years ahead of any competitor’s, and has ambitious plans to lead the way in the development of a ‘cost-competitive hydrogen economy’ by bringing fuel cells into line with current alternatives such as the petrol engine.

ITM said it is on course to meet its target of producing a 500W electrolyser stack after its mark III version operated successfully at a power rating of more than 200W during tests. It said that on the basis of these results, external consultants had estimated that its stack could approach the US Department of Energy’s cost target of $300 per kW of energy output.

The firm has now begun work on the mark IV version of its stack and has commissioned the construction of an electrolyser test facility.

Chief executive Jim Heathcote said: ‘It is important to have both low-cost systems and good longevity results before we can fully assess the commercial potential of our scientific advances.’ But he claimed the mark III test indicated that ITM was ‘well on track to achieve our milestone of 500W by June 2006.’

ITM has also produced a range of hydrophilic alkaline solid polymer electrolyte materials for operation in fuel cells. The company claimed these provided a ‘revolutionary’ starting point for the creation of alkaline electrolysers that offer cost savings over existing systems.

‘Alkaline electrochemistry opens the route to new lower-cost catalysts,’ said Heathcote.

ITM was set up to commercialise technology that emerged from a decade of research at the universities of Surrey and Cranfield. It floated earlier this year, and revealed the technological developments in its first business update to investors.

A key component of the firm’s commercial proposition is a one-step manufacturing process that allows a fuel cell or complete stack to be made in a single operation.

ITM said it is in discussion with several universities to outsource research into two ‘peripheral but important’ areas of research – photoelectric devices using ITM materials and the production of tertiary hydrocarbons.

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