A new process enables rapid prototyping of key components for hydrogen electrolysers
Spotted: Hydrogen is a clean fuel and feedstock that many experts believe will be key to decarbonising industries like trucking and steel production. But to be a truly sustainable solution, it needs to be produced without generating large quantities of carbon emissions. We already know how to produce low-emission ‘green’ hydrogen by running a renewable electric current through water (H2O) to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. However, the core piece of hardware needed for this process – known as an electrolyser – is currently expensive, which means that just one per cent of the world’s hydrogen is produced with renewable energy. Bringing down the cost of electrolysers will require continuing research and development, and New Zealand-based startup Bspkl is facilitating this process.
Proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers are one of the two dominant technologies for green hydrogen production today. And at the core of PEM electrolysers are catalyst coated membranes (CCMs) – components that play a key role in separating the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules. These CCMs are made up of catalysts – materials that speed up a chemical reaction – applied to a solid membrane. Bspkl has developed a proprietary manufacturing process that enables rapid sampling and testing of innovative CCMs.
Using technology pioneered in the semiconductor industry, the startup produces CCMs using up to 25 times less catalyst material than existing processes. The CCMs produced are also durable yet flexible, which means that the catalyst layer doesn’t easily crack or gradually peel away from the membrane. Both the catalyst and the membrane in a CCM vary depending on the type of battery and the precise performance needs of the manufacturer. Bspkl’s process is agnostic, which means it can be used with a range of catalysts and membrane materials.
Perhaps the most important benefit of the startup’s technology is that it enables fast prototyping of new designs, being able to produce and test new CCM samples in a day. This, in turn, speeds up research and development cycles, and enables manufacturers partnering with the company to develop new catalyst and CCM products and deliver them to market in a matter of weeks or months, rather than years.
Today, Bspkl is capable of small-scale production, but its process is specifically designed to easily scale up as demand for CCMs grows.
Hydrogen is a key area of cleantech innovation and Springwise has previously spotted a process for turning plastic waste into hydrogen, hydrogen electrolysers that use waste heat, and a process for manufacturing hydrogen and carbon black using pyrolysis.
Written By: Matthew Hempstead