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Smoltek Hydrogenated AGC at the Smoltek office

Smoltek Hydrogen is verifying its technology for high-volume manufacturing

Smoltek Hydrogen has placed an order for the design and engineering of a Prototype Coater for industrial growth of carbon nanostructures. The purpose is to verify that the nanostructures can be grown using the equipment from AGC Plasma Technology Solutions that has been selected for future mass production – a Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (PECVD) tool that can be configured for substrates of several square meters.

November 24, 2023

PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers are equip­ment used to make hydro­gen. They work with elec­tri­city and use iridi­um as cata­lyst to split water molecules into hydro­gen and oxy­gen, and they will play an import­ant role to reduce our car­bon foot­print, since the elec­tro­lyz­ers can make the pro­duc­tion of e.g., steel, fer­til­izers, and fuels for heavy trans­port fossil free. 

The PEM elec­tro­lyz­er has sev­er­al advant­ages over oth­er elec­tro­lyz­er types. The rap­id start and stop times make it oper­ate effi­ciently togeth­er with inter­mit­tent elec­tri­city sources (such as wind- and sol­ar-power). This flex­ib­il­ity means that the PEM elec­tro­lyz­er can pro­duce cheap fossil-free hydro­gen on windy and sunny days, when the elec­tri­city prices are low. 

The hydro­gen can then be stored and used when needed, for example in the industry, or be turned back into elec­tri­city again. This flex­ib­il­ity and cost advant­age make it attract­ive to scale-up the pro­duc­tion of PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers, even though they today use large amounts of the scarce met­al iridi­um as catalyst.

Because iridi­um is such a lim­ited resource, redu­cing its use in the elec­tro­lyz­ers is an abso­lute must, oth­er­wise the scale-up of PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers will be too expens­ive. Already today the iridi­um price is around SEK 2 mil­lion and is expec­ted to reach around SEK 8 mil­lion by 2030.

This requires new mater­i­al engin­eer­ing solu­tions for elec­tro­lyz­er cells. Like the one Smol­tek Hydro­gen is in the midst of devel­op­ing. It is a new cell mater­i­al that sub­stan­tially will reduce the amount of iridi­um in the elec­tro­lyz­er cell.

The devel­op­ment of Smol­tek Hydrogen’s elec­tro­lyz­er cell mater­i­al (ECM) is advan­cing accord­ing to plan, which is to lower the amount of iridi­um in the elec­tro­lyz­er cell towards 0.1 mg/​cm2. As of now the com­pany has pro­duced the same amount of hydro­gen as a stand­ard mater­i­al (that uses 2.5 mg iridium/​cm2) with only 0.5 mg iridium/​cm2 and will most cer­tainly reach the goal of the year, which is to have an even lower iridi­um loading. 

First steps towards indus­tri­al man­u­fac­tur­ing of the cell mater­i­al
Besides the tech­no­logy devel­op­ment, Smol­tek Hydro­gen is work­ing in par­al­lel with devel­op­ment of an indus­tri­al man­u­fac­tur­ing concept for the cell mater­i­al. Today the samples are pro­duced with labor­at­ory tech­no­lo­gies, in low quant­it­ies and with typ­ic­al area of only a few square cen­ti­meters, where­as the indus­tri­al man­u­fac­tur­ing concept must be scal­able to the high volumes fore­seen, which is tens of thou­sands of square meters a year, and beyond.

As a first step towards indus­tri­al man­u­fac­tur­ing, prac­tic­al val­id­a­tion of the selec­ted concept for the growth of nano­struc­tures is needed, since it is a slightly dif­fer­ent type of Chem­ic­al Vapor Depos­ition (CVD) pro­cess than used today. In order to do this Smol­tek Hydro­gen has placed an order with AGC Plasma Tech­no­logy Solu­tions for the design and engin­eer­ing of a new ded­ic­ated Pro­to­type Coat­er tool. Smol­tek has explored sev­er­al dif­fer­ent con­cepts and the selec­ted PECVD tech­no­logy is expec­ted to work well for Smoltek’s growth process.

Smol­tek and AGC Plasma Tech­no­logy Solu­tions will togeth­er design a Pro­to­type Coat­er tool that can mir­ror the out­put of full-size equip­ment. It will be placed in the Chalmers MC2 facil­it­ies in Gothen­burg, where Smol­tek cur­rently has its nano­struc­ture fab­ric­a­tion oper­a­tions. This is an import­ant first step towards indus­tri­al­iz­a­tion of the Smol­tek Hydro­gen cell material. 

The Pro­to­type Coat­er will be used to val­id­ate that we have chosen the right concept for the future volume man­u­fac­tur­ing, and also make it pos­sible to devel­op indus­tri­al growth recipes before fur­ther scale-up. And even more import­ant – it provides samples of indus­tri­al tech­no­logy already now, when cus­tom­ers are to use our new mater­i­al in the devel­op­ment of their next gen­er­a­tion of PEM electrolyzers. 

Shafiq Kabir, Head of Volume Pro­cesses at Smol­tek Hydrogen

After suc­cess­ful val­id­a­tion of the Pro­to­type Coat­er, Smol­tek Hydro­gen aims to order a Pilot Coat­er which is a smal­ler ver­sion of a final high-volume tool. This is a cru­cial com­pon­ent of AGC’s busi­ness mod­el, since they guar­an­tee the per­form­ance of the volume machine if their smal­ler coat­er is used to spe­cify its require­ments. The Pilot Coat­er will be used to pro­duce test series for cus­tom­ers as well as for veri­fic­a­tion of the pro­duc­tion tech­no­lo­gies before volume manufacturing. 

Smol­tek Hydro­gen plans to scale up the man­u­fac­tur­ing in sync with cus­tom­ers’ product devel­op­ment pro­cesses, to ensure cus­tom­ers can obtain appro­pri­ate sizes and quant­it­ies of samples as well as final products when needed. 

Sh2 Cell Material Roadmap 2023 11
The roadmap for scal­ing up pro­duc­tion of Smol­tek Elec­tro­lyz­er Cell Mater­i­al is per­formed in sev­er­al phases. The design of a Pro­to­type Coat­er is an import­ant first step in the volume concept validation.

About AGC
AGC Plasma Tech­no­logy Solu­tions is a new busi­ness unit with­in AGC Glass Europe SA, a European lead­er in flat glass. AGC Plasma Tech­no­logy Solu­tions is provid­ing low-pres­sure plasma coat­ing tech­no­logy and equip­ment. AGC Plasma is an expans­ive team of plasma coat­ing experts spe­cial­ized in innov­at­ive PVD and PECVD applic­a­tions from R&D and new product devel­op­ment all the way through to equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing and oper­a­tion­al man­age­ment of mass pro­duc­tion coat­ing plants. Vis­it the web­site to learn more about the equip­ment and ser­vices offered by AGC Plasma Tech­no­logy Solutions.

People pic­tured in the top photo, from left: Amin Saleeem, Bas­tien Pen­ninckx, Shafik Kabir, Erwan-Axel Mor­ris­son (AGC), Fabi­an Wenger, Jer­oen Schot­saert (AGC), Ellinor Ehrn­berg, Réka Simon-Balint.

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