Powering ahead to establish hydrogen fuel supply

ITM Power hailed a deal with the University of Birmingham as a "landmark" moment in its drive towards creating a leading hydrogen fuel company.

The Sheffield-based firm sold its first product, a hydrogen generator, to the university's fuel cell laboratory. ITM's electrolyser technology creates high-purity hydrogen from renewable electricity. Under the deal, for an undisclosed sum, the university will also test the equipment.

Chief executive Graham Cooley, who was brought in a year ago to commercialise ITM's technology, said the company has a strong growth story ahead.

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"It's a landmark deal," said Dr Cooley. "We're confident about our technology now and we're really moving at a pace now.

"I can think of no better partner for this important assessment."

The device, called HPac, will be delivered in the fourth quarter of the year. It is capable of producing a minimum of 10 litres of hydrogen a minute. Any excess gas it generates will be used by the university's fleet of fuel cell vehicles, ensuring it is no longer dependent on bottled gas.

The HPac device will be fitted with telemetry to allow ITM to monitor its performance remotely from its headquarters in Sheffield.

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ITM hopes the trial will give its technology added credibility.

"The most important thing with trials is to have third party validation," said Dr Cooley. "These guys are experts in hydrogen. They know hydrogen inside out."

The University of Birmingham is at the forefront of hydrogen research via its Centre for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research. It was formed in early 2000 by Professor Kevin Kendall and is recognised for its expertise in fuel cell technology.

Prof Kendall said: "We are delighted to be working with ITM to make this assessment of their first HPac unit.

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"Green hydrogen production coupled with high-efficiency fuel cells has a wide range of exciting applications and we are pleased to be working with such a prominent company in this field."

ITM recently rolled out a complete manufacturing system which it said prepares it for a surge in orders.

"We've put together all of our systems so that we can go all the way from design, through engineering and procurement and end up with a chain of manufacturing, just at the touch of a button," said Dr Cooley.

ITM now has in place a team of 10 staff trained in computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacture (CAM). Each of its products has a design engineer to oversee production and ensure products are uniform.

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ITM production manager Shaun Stancliffe said: "After a great deal of planning and hard work, we are delighted to have now achieved the full integration of our business development, product design and manufacturing systems into a seamless process.

"We can now fully plan and resource the fulfilment of customer orders at the touch of a button while maintaining full traceability and quality assurance."

The group is still waiting for CE certification, but once this is in place, hopes for a ramp up in orders.

Earlier this month it signed deals for logistics firm DHL and London Stansted Airport to try out its new hydrogen refuelling system.

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DHL and Stansted agreed to test its transportable high-pressure refuelling unit, called HFuel. The trials start in 2011 and will see two hydrogen-fuelled Ford Transit vans run on fuel generated by the portable refueller.

"Investors are getting on board and are starting to listen," said Dr Cooley. "The traction for companies like ITM is increasing dramatically as we can make a fuel from renewable energy."

Fuel applications for the future

ITM has developed a range of electrolyser products which it hopes will become household names.

HPac is designed to supply hydrogen to compression systems for energy storage, fuel cells, engines and small industrial sites.

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HFlame is aimed at applications where oxygen, acetylene, propane or natural gas are normally used. It is designed for soldering, cutting and polishing.

HFuel is a self-contained unit for refuelling hydrogen-powered vehicles and forklift trucks.

HLab is aimed at the pharmaceutical, laboratory and fuel cell industries.

HBox is an electrolyser designed to produce heat and power inside the home.