A company perspective: EKPO experience as BEST4Hy’s partner
Interview with Thomas Kiupel, EKPO
Interview with Thomas Kiupel, EKPO
Interview with Thomas Kiupel, EKPO
As expert supplier of PEM fuel cell stacks and components, EKPO gives important contributions to the BEST4Hy research. Working together with Hensel Recycling and the CEA, EKPO supports the experiments for the recovery processes of Platinum and Ionomer of fuel cells components, from the concepts of the manufacturing design to the EoL product supply.
To go more into details, what are the role and contributions of EKPO in the BEST4Hy project?
Our experience as PEM fuel cell supplier can really give a tangible contribution to BEST4Hy, creating a link between the project’s research and the hydrogen industry. EKPO is a medium-sized company specialized in fuel cell stack and modul production with a high technology level. Our main business is the production of technologies ready for the market, aiming to give an important contribution for a sustainable energy transition. With our products, we cover several market areas, from the electromobility to heavy-duty and maritime applications, agricultural sector, aviation and stationary energy supply. In its activity, EKPO is committed to pursue sustainability objectives. To reach them, we need to take a closer look at the fuel cell operation, but also at the processes during its development and production. Equally important is to understand what happens at the end-of-life of a fuel cell product, which is the central issues in BEST4Hy project.
From the knowledge of the existing technologies, we can learn the main challenges (e.g., the battery technology) and how to address the issues in advance. As supplier, we can contribute to this study, for example providing fuel cell stacks. Indeed, they are under investigation for their components and to explore how further we are able to process them at the end of their life time. Specifically, in BEST4Hy we focus on the recycling of Platinum Group Metals (PGM) used in the stack, as well as the Ionomer from the membranes.
Hensel Recycling and CEA are the partners in charge to improve the existing and develop the novel recovery technologies for PEM’s components. How is EKPO collaborating with them?
EKPO has a strong collaboration with both of the partners for the EoL processes of PEM FC. With Hensel Recycling, we already have experience of mutual collaboration for the development of future solution for fuel cells modules on an industrial scale. Those activity strengths our partnerships in BEST4Hy to advance in the fuel cells disassembly and precious material recovery.
It is also crucial the collaboration with the CEA for its scientific expertise. Their contribution is required when it comes the development, analysis and characterization, mainly for the electrochemical components of the fuel cell technology. In the project, they have already developed a new technology on a laboratory scale to recover Platinum from the membrane with high yield. Next steps will be the scaling-up of this technology. Here is where EKPO will give an important support providing relevant components for their tests.
Which added value is EKPO bringing to the research?
As a manufacturer, EKPO can support the research through the supply of differently used and aged products on the one hand, provide information about the operation and the components used in the fuel cell module on the other hand. Much more interesting, however, will be the testing and investigation of the newly manufactured components made from recycled raw materials. First, the CEA will produce the MEAs from the recovered materials, then we will install and test them in our fuel cell stacks. In this stage, we will be able to assess their performance, quality, life time and return the results to the Consortium.
Another point is the joint consideration, especially in the context of recycling, of how the design assembly can influence the future disassembly and how to optimize the overall concept. The Eco-design is one of the key factor to obtain simple and efficient final step of dismantling. At this end, the activities together with University of Ljubljana are of importance. Together with CEA and Hensel Recycling, we are all involved in the topic of data inventory to perform a final life cycle analysis and costing for the PEM fuel cell stacks analyzed in BEST4Hy.
Futhermore, what is the perspective from the hydrogen industry network. Do you think there is interest in the sustainability of EoL FCH topic, as we have in BEST4Hy?
I firmly believe that this issue will quickly come into focus. Resources are limited, especially when it comes to technologies in the field of energy generation and conversion. Right now, this issue is very much in the spotlight in battery technology, but will be the same for hydrogen technologies. These latter will also only be able to access a limited amount of precious metals in the future, needed for the catalysts production. Even Ionomer, another key element for the fuel cells, will become a highly sought-after material. For this reason, the approach of recovering Ionomer and reusing it in membranes is an extremely interesting strategy.
What are your next steps?
The PEM dismantling and recovery materials steps are mostly on track. Specific topics, such as Eco-design, are still being addressed and discussed in BEST4Hy to improve future processes in recycling.
The other activity related to the quality characterization of the recovered materials is still ongoing. A big task is testing the components produced by CEA in our product and design on the test rigs of EKPO. For this purpose, a short stack of 10 cells will be set up, which will be tested and operated in a jointly agreed protocol. The resulting data at the end will show us how successful we were in the project and will identify the best recycling method to use in the future. In addition, they will give us helpful inputs for the next steps of development and improvement of various processes in order to create a more sustainable solution for EoL fuel cell products.
To conclude, I would say that further steps still need to be tackled. As Consortium, I have the feeling that we worked together really well and that we should continue in this direction to draise the TRL level in fuel cell recycling to an higher level and direct the market towards a higher sustainability of fuel cells products. Even our customers already recognize the importance of this topic with high interest. They always ask: what are you doing in the field of EoL products and the recycling process? We are always happy to say that we deal with it in different projects, like BEST4Hy. For the future, it is important to close the resources loop and to make fuel cells, from manufacturing to the end-of-life, as sustainable as possible.
This is a relevant topic, so I am really happy to be part of the project and I look forward to the next BEST4Hy!