AFC Energy looks to the KORE in bid to tap into huge opportunity

(MENAFN- ProactiveInvestors) AFC Energy (LON:AFC) is all about commercialising its breakthrough hydrogen fuel cell technology under new chief executive Adam Bond.

To emphasise the point Bond who took over from Ian Williamson in December set out an eleven-point plan aimed at doing just this.

Distilled down the blueprint is a very simple one: it is to fast-track the delivery of a 240 kilowatt system based on the company’s KORE technology ready for use by the end of this year.

In doing so it would be 18 months ahead of the previous timeline.

AFC’s technology will be the centre-piece of the POWER-UP Project which will demonstrate the world’s largest alkaline fuel cell system.

The aim is to generate electricity using surplus hydrogen produced from chemical plants.

To that end it is partnered with Air Products which is hosting the scale trial at its facility in Stade northern Germany.

“The change of focus is aggressively getting the fuel cell into a position where we can start to market as well as look at other products that we might be able to develop around the basic KORE package” said Bond.

“We want to get to the commercial inflection point this year.

“My focus and the focus of the company is to deliver the full 240 kilowatt KORE system as soon as possible and no later than December and we are on target to do that.

“And by doing that we will have demonstrated the technology works at that scale.”

AFC’s technology has its roots in the space race of the 1960s and a repurposed croissant maker is used in the manufacturing process.

The method of generating electricity it has developed works a little like a large alkali battery.

And it is versatile in being able to use hydrogen created from for example chlorine production biomass and coal.

Indeed it has worked with Dutch chemicals giant AkzoNobel to turn waste hydrogen from chlorine production into electricity.

To date the firm has spent £30-£35mln getting the technology to the stage it is today – on the cusp of being commercial.

This Bond reckons is some achievement given that billions have been spent industry-wide for little tangible (and profitable) return.

Certainly there is no one hydrogen fuel cell firm dominating the sector in the way that the technology space has 800lb gorillas such as Intel and Apple and the biotechnology industry has its titans Genentech and Amgen; not even close in fact.

Yet the opportunity is potentially huge particularly if hydrogen takes off in the way that gas did five decades ago to become a household fuel.

This is possible Bond reckons.

Progress in this regard is illustrated by the fact that the 2020 Olympic village in Tokyo will be run solely from hydrogen fuel cells.

“The argument might be that the gas could be replaced by hydrogen one day. If that happens the game changes” said Bond.

“Tokyo is at an early stage but we are looking at it being a realistic opportunity for us.”

However the focus currently is very much on the short term and hitting those milestones set out in December.

The successful trial of its first 51 cell stack cartridge was described as a “massive step forward” for AFC’s technology.

The opportunity to sit back and bask in the warm afterglow of this success will be short-lived though as the firm pushes on to a 101 cell stack over the next month or so.

To date three of the 11 milestones on the Bond blueprint have been achieved although the AFC chief executive reckons “there are a couple more we will hit soon”.

Those who have followed the company for a while will know that its major shareholder is Ervington Investments which holds around 13% and is the vehicle of Chelsea Football Club billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Bond said he is frequently asked how Ervington views the strategy but as he points out with two directors on the AFC board Abramovich’s team have signed off on the plan to accelerate development.

“Everyone is happy with our statement of intent” said Bond.

“The proof is in the pudding and AFC has suffered from a lack of credibility in the market. It hasn’t delivered on its commitments. We are now embarking on a programme of credibility.”

“I am confident with the milestones we set in December that we can do that.”

For Bond the challenge is not only to get the 240 kilowatt unit developed and ready for demonstration but also to negotiate commercial deals with partners.

He said the lack of commercial progress was reflective of the research focus of the company although this has changed.

Bond points out he isn’t a scientist; his track record is as an enabler be that with Australia’s Linc Energy and before that in working across a range of renewable and clean energy projects and programmes.

So his mission is to go out and make those partnerships with industry players.

The key to success he said is not jumping at the first offer on the table but waiting and taking one that provides the maximum upside.

“We want to make sure the model is sustainable not just for today but sustainable as we progress into a business” Bond explained.

“It is very easy for companies in our position just on the cusp [of being commercial] to give away too much today that has a long-term negative effect on the company. This is something I am very mindful of.”

“We won’t sign the wrong deal today when we might be able to do the right deal tomorrow.”

The one-size fits all approach probably won’t work either. Bond points out there may be a transaction to be struck with a US firm that takes advantage of the tax credit model on capital spend in the States that would be difficult to replicate in Europe where support mechanisms are almost non-existent.

Conversations with potential partners are active on a “daily basis” and advanced talks are taking place with a “handful" of parties the AFC boss revealed.

Potential collaborators include the largest engineering procurement and construction firms through to industrial and chemicals companies.

“We need to look at what we are good at look at how it complements our partners best to provide an avenue to commercialisation” said Bond.

“Whether that is leveraging a partner’s network skill sets or financing capability it needs to be complementary and not just whoever rings us first on a Monday morning.

“And that is an important part of the commercialisation strategy. It is about getting the right partner and model.”

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