American Fuel Cell, based in Rochester, New York, designs, manufactures, and assembles low-cost, high-performance Membrane Electrode Assemblies for a variety of fuel cell applications. Based upon a proprietary formulation and a low-cost thin-film roll coating process, these assemblies are ready for use in the forklift and backup cell tower application markets and will ultimately put AFC in position to enter into the “other electric vehicle” market.
The two near-term markets for AFC – forklifts and related mobility equipment and backup power for cell towers – are growing rapidly and the company estimates they will amount to more than $375 million within the next two years. AFC has already sold parts to the Department of Defense, and has secured a Memorandum of Understanding with a commercial customer for volume orders. As a result, the company is ramping up its production capability in order to be able to meet these volumes in the November 2016 timeframe.
AFC was founded by two former employees of General Motors’ Honeoye Falls fuel cell vehicle laboratory. Dave Wetter and Daniel O'Connell decided to leverage their expertise along with other local fuel cell resources to grow a new company and create high-paying technology jobs in the region. Initially funded by the NEXUS-NY program, AFC has made use of funding from NIST’s MEP program and NYSERDA’s Bench-to-Prototype Award program as well as technology support at RIT, Cornell, Alfred University, and Kodak. The company is now situated in the Kodak Eastman Business Park, where it is scaling up its coating manufacturing capabilities.
The Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) is the core component in a fuel cell that is required to produce the electrochemical reaction needed to separate electrons from the hydrogen (or other) fuel in the cell. On the anode side of the MEA, the fuel diffuses through the membrane and on the cathode end bonds an oxidant (air or oxygen) and receives the electrons that were separated from the fuel. Catalysts on the two sides enable reactions and the membrane allows protons to pass through while keeping the gases separate. Voltage is maintained across the membrane and electrical current can be drawn from the cell.
The largest future potential market opportunity for AFC is for fuel cell passenger vehicles. These cars have just begun the transition from prototypes and demo vehicles to commercial availability with the introduction of vehicles like the Toyota Mirai, the Honda Clarity, and the Hyundai Tucson. The worldwide market for cars is around 85 million per year. The company notes that if fuel cells could capture just over 1% of that market, that would amount to a million cars, each of which would use around 350 MEAs. AFC represents an American source for this key technology.
According to Co-Founder and COO David Wetter: "The combination of local fuel cell resources, robust supplier network, community support, and extensive coating expertise, with our industry connections offers us an exceptional opportunity to make a high performing, superior quality, low cost MEA product tailored to many fuel cell applications." He also believes that "our product could be a key abler to a widespread adoption of fuel cells".
AFC is working closely with various customers in order to develop application-specific designs that optimize cost savings. They are also working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Department of Energy to improve and optimize its processes and materials and is working with other partners on potential future materials. As the company scales up, it is taking on investors to fuel its future growth.