The facility enables the increased production of fuel cells with full cartridge assembly to meet AFC Energy's increasing commercial activities and in-house expansion programme. At full production, the plant has the capability of producing up to 20,000 fuel cell electrodes a year. The plant, which has been delivered within budget, provides an interim step between small-scale and fully automated high volume in-line production. Licensed manufacture at larger scales remains AFC Energy's intended manufacturing route for full-scale commercial deployment.
A team of experienced fuel cell production technicians has been employed to staff the unit and, as part of their training, have already manufactured high quality cartridges for the Beta+ trials at AkzoNobel's plant in Bitterfeld, Germany. In the longer term, the Company expects there to be many more jobs in fuel cell production as the fuel cell industry grows and AFC Energy begins exporting the technology around the world.
When cartridges reach the end of their life in the field they are returned to AFC Energy. Owing to the materials selected by AFC Energy in the design of the cartridge, the majority of the components can be reused or recycled. The new production plant includes the facility to dismantle used cartridges and to reuse components back into the production process. Components that are not reused are returned to our 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 and AFC Energy also believes it will be well placed to meet potential new legislation regarding reuse and recycling of materials.
The opening event of 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.
Commenting on the opening event Ian Williamson, CEO, AFC Energy said:
"The Company wanted to acknowledge the hard work of our facilities team in getting the unit fit for purpose both in terms of building fabric and the installed equipment. We also wished to welcome our production technicians to their new home. The opening of the pilot plant at Dunsfold Park allows us to deliver increased numbers of fuel cells to our expanding customer base. It is not the end of the story, far from it, but it maintains our prudent expansion plans. We will look back on days like these as milestone moments in the future."
Gene Lewis, Technical Director, AFC Energy commented:
"Today marks the start of a new era for AFC Energy. Our production team have been learning the specialised electrode manufacturing and cartridge build techniques developed over the last two years. They will now assume their role as primary providers of cartridges working strictly to documented procedures to ensure product integrity and consistency. We have already begun to consider the full automation of these processes and these will be introduced as our markets develop."