UK-based catalytic convertor and hydrogen technology specialist Johnson Matthey has announced it will spend £80 million to build a new hydrogen fuel cell components facility in Royston, near Cambridge.
The plant, which will be repurposed from its current role making catalytic convertors, will make the proton exchange membrane, often described as the heart of the fuel cell stack.
The plant will produce enough membranes to create 3GW worth of fuel cell stacks annually at maximum capacity. The plant will be operational by the first half of 2024, said Johnson Matthey in a statement.
Capacity of the new facility could be tripled in the future to meet demand, the company said. “The fuel cell market has now reached a pivotal moment with the increasing urgency to decarbonise transportation. Fuel cells will be a crucial part of the energy transition,” said Johnson Matthey CEO Liam Condon.
The £80m investment in the facility was ‘supported’ by the government-backed Automotive Transformation Fund. No figure was given for the precise level of support received. The investment supports the UK government’s target to make the country a leading producer and developer of fuel cells. The Advanced Propulsion Centre, a government-backed organisation that supports investment in new mobility technology, estimates the UK will need 14GW of fuel cell stack production and 400,000 high-pressure carbonfibre tanks annually to meet local vehicle production demands by 2035.
While cars are generally moving in the direction of battery-electric in their shift to zero tailpipe emissions, heavier vehicles such as trucks are expected to pivot towards hydrogen fuel cells.
Johnson Matthey has invested in both fuel cell stack technology and ‘green hydrogen’ production, which uses a reversal of the process to create hydrogen from water. The two will use the same membrane produced by the company. “This is hardcore metals chemistry. This is a core competency of JM,” said Condon in an investor call in March.
The increased output in the new plant will go some way to reducing the high cost of fuel cell production through economies of scale. Increasing production from 0.1GW to 2GW would reduce the kilowatt per hour cost of the stack plus tank storage from $266 per kWh to $120 per kWh, which is more in line with battery costs, according to figures from the APC. It estimates battery and fuel cell costs will converge at around $80 per kWh by 2030.
“We already have 15% of the fuel cell value chain radiating from UK businesses but this could be as much as 65% just by expanding on current strengths in electrochemistry and coatings,” said APC boss Ian Constance in a statement.