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Fuel cell investment to boost breakthrough technologies

Carbon Trust has given support to the tune of more than US$3m to two fuel cell pioneers – ACAL Energy and ITM Power – that are working to deliver a much needed step change reduction in the cost of the technology.

The cutting-edge fuel cell technology that the two developers are working on could be used under the bonnet of hydrogen-powered cars by as early as 2017. Major manufacturers have already built hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars, but most commentators in the automotive industry agree that the real challenge is to bring down the cost of the technology.

Production of state-of-the-art fuel cell systems currently under development globally are forecast to cost approximately $50/kW at mass manufacture volumes. However, analysis by the Carbon Trust indicates that for these future fuel cell vehicles to compete with IC engine cars, the cost of fuel cell systems must be reduced to about $35/kW. As such, significant additional technological breakthroughs are needed to achieve the 30% cost reduction target say Carbon Trust.

Analysis by the organization has identified that innovative technologies being developed by ITM Power and ACAL Energy have the potential to reach this automotive cost target if certain technological hurdles can be overcome.

One of the most important factors for bringing down the cost, size and weight of a fuel cell is increasing its power density. Based on data provided by ITM Power, analysis by the Carbon Trust indicates that their membrane technology has the potential, subject to overcoming a number of technological hurdles, to reduce fuel cell costs to about $35/kW. As a result, the Carbon Trust is investing US$1.71m, which will be earmarked to further develop and scale-up ITM Power’s membrane technology for use in automotive applications.

Another significant way to bring down the cost of polymer fuel cells is to reduce the amount of platinum used. ACAL Energy has developed a revolutionary new design of fuel cell that the developer calls FlowCath. Inspired by the human lung and bloodstream, it uses a circulating liquid polymer cathode, creating a virtually platinum free low-cost system with the added potential benefit of increased durability, making it highly attractive to vehicle manufacturers for their next generation fuel cell vehicles. Analysis by the Carbon Trust, based on data provided by ACAL Energy, indicates that this technology also has the potential, subject to overcoming the technological hurdles, to reduce fuel cell system costs to about $35/kW. As a result, a further US$1.2m has been invested by the Carbon Trust into ACAL Energy for continued development and scale-up of their FlowCathM system.

Confirming the investments, Michael Rea, COO at the Carbon Trust, said: "British technology is in pole position to be under the bonnet of a next generation of mass-produced hydrogen-powered cars. After a lot of hype, fuel cell technology is now a great growth opportunity for the UK. It is anticipated that the first generation of hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars are likely to roll off production lines around 2015. While they are expected to be lower-carbon than internal combustion engines, they will also be more costly. The investments we have announced today we believe will help develop the technologies needed to bring down the costs of the next generation of fuel cell vehicles so that they can become price competitive with conventional internal combustion engine cars in the future.”

Simon Bourne, CTO at ITM Power Plc, added: “ITM and the Carbon Trust have developed a productive relationship during the two fuel cell projects that the Carbon Trust has provided funds to support. Their understanding of the technological advances required to accelerate commercial uptake of fuel cells is deep and well aligned with our own. I am delighted by their decision to invest to help us further develop our membrane technology for automotive fuel cell applications."

2 August 2012


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