Acal Energy: Liquid catalyst technology will be in cars by 2020

Engineering firm Acal Energy has said its proprietary fuel cell has successfully run for 10,000 hours on a test rig, proving its suitability for use in automotive applications.

The fuel cell replaces the platinum catalysts in the cathode of a conventional Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell with a liquid catalyst. The “FlowCath” liquid is circulated through the cell in the electrode and into a “regenerator” where it comes into contact with air to form water and the solution is pumped back into the cell.

According to Acal Energy its FlowCath liquid eliminates up to 80% of the platinum used in a PEM fuel cell. It also reduces the balance of plant and improves durability past the point most other fuel cells can achieve.

Acal plans to licence the FlowCath system to an automotive OEM and said it is in discussion with a number of car makers following the successful tests.

Brendan Bilton, managing director of Acal Energy, said: “This is a second generation platform, so you won’t see this in a car until 2020. In the meantime we are looking to supply it to stationary applications, where the benefits are just as large and the capital and operational cost is cheaper than diesel engines.”

“Everyone in the PEM fuel cell industry uses air and platinum. Ours is an entirely new chemistry that mimics nature – it works the same way blood does.”

Bilton said that the chemistry in the liquid catalyst is based on a formula originally developed by Unilever, for whom Acal Energy’s chief technology office Dr Andrew Creeth used to work. The oxidation catalysts used in “Persil Power” were found to damage clothes soon after the washing powder was launched in 1994 and caused the product to be recalled.

Greg MacCray chief executive of Acal Energy, said: “Degradation has held held back the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cells in the automotive sector. Breaking the 10,000 hour threshold during automotive testing is a key reason why our hydrogen fuel cell design and chemistry has been selected for trail by a number of the six top automotive OEMs.”

The fuel cell was tested in an industry standard automotive stress test protocol during the last 16 months that simulated a 40 minute car journey with a stop-start at the end of each cycle. The cycle is repeated 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is meant to mimic a vehicle’s journey with frequent stops, starts and a highway cruise.

Runcorn-based Acal Energy was founded in 2004 and has previously attracted investment from several UK Government backed sources including the RisingStars Growth fund and the Carbon Trust.

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