Lighter, Cheaper Fuel Cell Built by UK Company

ACAL Energy, a company in the U.K., said today that its hydrogen fuel cell system passed 10,000 hours of testing and can reduce the cost of a fuel cell by 20 percent. 

Hydrogen fuel cells create power through a controlled reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, with the only emissions being water. But in order for that to happen, today’s systems require platinum as a catalyst between the two, which drives costs up.

ACAL Energy’s system requires much less platinum because it uses a proprietary fluid to carry oxygen to mix with the hydrogen just in a similar way to how blood carries oxygen in your body. Not only does the system reduce the need for platinum by 80 percent over current systems, but it cuts back on the need for other measures required to keep hydrogen fuel cells like those found in Honda, Toyota and Hyundai’s systems running.

Those fuel cells are very sensitive because hydrogen and oxygen reacting together can be extremely volatile, but as ACAL Chief Commercial Officer Brendan Bilton explained, the proprietary liquid, called “FlowCath,” mitigates many of the requirements.

Current fuel cell systems rely on a membrane with platinum plates to separate oxygen and hydrogen gas. That membrane needs to be kept humid, but the liquid in this system alleviates that requirement. It also eliminates the need for cooling systems by acting as a coolant, allowing for significant weight reductions.

The third party durability testing conducted on the system lasted double the U.S. Department of Energy’s target for fuel cell vehicles to last 5,000 hours — approximately 150,000 miles — with a degradation threshold of about 10 percent.

According to ACAL spokesperson Sarah Mulder, the company is currently in talks with at least six unnamed major automakers to license the technology. While Bilton wouldn’t say which automakers are on that list, Mulder said Honda is one of ACAL’s financial backers.

Honda currently leases its fuel cell electric vehicle, the FCX Clarity, in California.

Toyota and Hyundai are also both working to market hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In fact, Hyundai delivered its first hydrogen fuel cell ix35 crossover in Europe on June 3.

Costs and a lack of refueling infrastructure will both pose problems for hydrogen fueled vehicles, but a Toyota engineer said earlier this year that the cost of its hydrogen car had dropped dramatically from about $1 million to between $50,000 and $100,000. Toyota expects to have on the road a production version of its FCV-R concept (above) by 2015.