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Fuel cell recycling technology developed

A collaborative project has developed a recycling process that recovers high-value material from end-of-life fuel cells.

UK consultancy Axion Consulting, chemicals company Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells and non-woven manufacturer Technical Fibre Products (TFP) are partners in the initiative, which is funded by innovation agency Innovate UK.

The project aims to establish a new UK-based global recycling business.

Further work is underway on the commercial viability of the process and to develop a take-back system for end-of-life fuel cells. These cells can be found in forklift trucks, mobile phone masts, electric vehicles, small portable power packs for laptops and other products.

For the scheme:

  • Axion leads on development of primary recycling routes
  • TFP leads on recovery and reuse of carbon fibres
  • Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells leads on reuse of materials in fuel cells, final recovery and recycling of precious metals

The project is also looking at designing for recycling. Collection and the technical problems of material recovery are the main challenges. Trials are underway at Axion’s Salford recycling facility.

Roger Morton, director at Axion Consulting, said that “significant quantities” of fuel cells will reach end-of-life in 10-15 years. “The ability to recycle fuel cells is important because they will be powering the vehicles and technology of the future, which needs to be cost-effective if they are to be acceptable to consumers and manufacturers.

“To make fuel cells more cost-effective, we need to reduce their whole-life cost and maximise the value of the resources they contain, such as platinum, high-value polymers and carbon fibre. Recycling them would also improve resource efficiency and security of supply for these expensive and critical materials.”

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