The facility enables the increased production of alkaline fuel cells with full cartridge assembly, to meet AFC Energy’s increasing commercial activities and in-house expansion programme. The opening follows an investment by AFC Energy of £180 000 (US$290 000) earlier this year.
The plant, which has been delivered within budget, provides an interim step between small-scale and fully automated, high-volume inline production. AFC Energy says that licensed manufacture at larger scales remains its intended manufacturing route for full-scale commercial deployment.
A team of experienced fuel cell production technicians has been employed to staff the unit. As part of their training, they have already manufactured high-quality cartridges for the Beta+ trials at the AkzoNobel plant in Bitterfeld, Germany.
When cartridges reach the end of their life in the field, they are returned to AFC Energy. Careful selection of the materials used in the design of the cartridge mean that most of the components can be reused or recycled.
The new production plant includes the facility to dismantle used cartridges, and reuse components in the production process. Components that are not reused are returned to their suppliers or other recycling partners for reclaiming and reuse.
The ease of reuse and recycling of cartridge components significantly reduces the ongoing cost and material demand for producing new cartridges over the lifetime of a fuel cell system. AFC Energy also believes it will be well placed to meet potential new legislation regarding reuse and recycling of materials.
The opening event for the pilot plant was attended by a number of invited guests and local dignitaries. Those present had the opportunity to have a guided tour of the production plant, see the equipment in operation, and talk with the production team.
‘Our production team have been learning the specialised electrode manufacturing and cartridge build techniques developed over the last two years,’ says Gene Lewis, Technical Director of AFC Energy. ‘They will now assume their role as primary providers of cartridges, working strictly to documented procedures to ensure product integrity and consistency.’
Lewis adds that AFC Energy has already begun to consider the full automation of these processes, and these will be introduced as its markets develop. The company is pursuing opportunities in several sectors where hydrogen is readily available including the chlorine, clean coal, and waste-to-energy industries, as well as applications for distributed and backup power.