Ballard Power Systems (TSX: BLD; NASDAQ: BLDP) announced that the Company has reached a milestone in commercialization of clean energy fuel cell technology, with recent production of its one-millionth MEA (membrane electrode assembly), the proprietary core component of Ballard fuel cells.
Ballard fuel cells are being deployed to meet customer requirements for high efficiency, clean energy solutions in backup power, distributed generation, material handling and transit bus applications.
Paul Cass, Ballard's Vice President of Operations said, "While we have been ramping up production volumes, we have also been reducing cost through important innovations in automation of various manufacturing steps, including ionomer spray coating, LIM sealing and MEA lamination. This is contributing to a stronger value proposition for Ballard fuel cells across the range of applications we are focused on."
Ballard designs and manufactures proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, which combine hydrogen and oxygen to generate clean, zero-emission electricity. The MEA is a core proprietary component of each fuel cell, incorporating the Company's intellectual property. A single cell contains one MEA, capable of generating enough electricity to power a light bulb. By 'stacking' multiple cells together, total power output can be scaled up to the multi-megawatt level, each megawatt capable of powering approximately 800 homes.
Improved manufacturing productivity has resulted from several factors, the most significant being introduction of automated or continuous manufacturing in place of more discrete, labour-intensive processes. As an example, MEA lamination - in which key MEA component parts are cut and assembled - is now accomplished with new equipment designed to Ballard's exacting specifications. This automation can effectively increase lamination production ten-fold, using the same amount of labour. In addition, the lamination equipment requires less than ten-percent of the physical floor space needed for a discrete process, thereby freeing up space for future growth. Insights gained from the use of this MEA laminator are now being applied to the design of a next-generation MEA laminator that will deliver an additional four-fold increase in productivity.
Growth in production volumes, together with implementation of automated manufacturing processes, have contributed significantly to a 30% annual reduction in the cost of Ballard's fuel cell products over the past two years. Going forward, these factors are expected to further reduce cost, enabling more aggressive competitive positioning in the market as well as higher gross margins on product sales.