Oak Ridge National Laboratory

 

News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations
865.576.0226

 

UK's ZeTek, ORNL technology Tennessee-bound

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Dec. 14, 2000 — ZeTek Power Corp. will soon be using technology licensed from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and setting up shop in East Tennessee.

ZeTek, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-based ZeTek Power Plc., is a leading manufacturer of fuel cells and expects to employ 150 within two years at the former Advance Transformer plant in Morgan County. Production of fuel cells, which are relatively simple devices that combine oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity, could begin early next year.

At a signing ceremony today in Morgan County, Tommy Kilby, county executive, said, "Morgan County is proud to be the site selected by ZeTek Power. The partnerships created among Morgan County, ZeTek and ORNL will be good for the workforce not only in Morgan County, but the entire region."

This marks the first location of a company in the region as a direct result of technology developed by ORNL since UT-Battelle took over management. Over the next few years, Oak Ridge could become home to ZeTek research and development, systems integration and corporate offices.

Bill Baxter, state commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, sees the move as a perfect match.

"We are pleased ZeTek Power Corp. has chosen to locate in Tennessee, where they will have access to superior infrastructure, a skilled workforce and the vast technology resources of the Oak Ridge National Lab," Baxter said. "We look forward to working with ZeTek to ensure job creation in East Tennessee and successful business growth and development."

At the heart of ZeTek's alkaline fuel cell system will be two ORNL technologies. One removes carbon dioxide from the fuel (hydrogen from natural gas, propane and other readily available gases) and from air. This technology avoids the release of carbon dioxide into the environment. The other technology is a method for manufacturing the carbon elements (used in the electrical swing adsorption) through a slurry molding process.

ORNL and ZeTek officials believe the time is perfect for this zero emission technology, which has a variety of uses, ranging from propulsion systems for vehicles and boats to stationary power generators.

"Initially, we expect to target the power generation industry, where fuel cells can help replace power generation from fossil fuels, which is less environmentally friendly," said Nick Abson, chairman and chief executive officer of ZeTek. "Within the next 16 months, we expect to show that this technology is competitive with gas-fired generation of electricity."

ORNL's Carbon Fiber Composite Molecular Sieve is one of the technologies that enables the ZeTek alkaline fuel cell system to be robust and inexpensive to operate. The novel activated carbon was developed as a result of ORNL's long history of carbon research. The other ORNL technology that ZeTek will use is called electrical swing adsorption and involves passing an electric current through the carbon fiber base material to rid it of the carbon dioxide captured from the fuel or oxidant.

While there are several kinds of fuel cells, ZeTek has opted to produce alkaline fuel cells because they offer several advantages over the others. The alkaline fuel cell operates at the relatively low temperature of 70 degrees Celsius and takes advantage of well-established technology developed for the European space program. It also uses materials that are lower in cost than what are required for other fuel cell technologies.

ORNL's Carbon Fiber Composite Molecular Sieve and electrical swing adsorption technologies will allow ZeTek to simplify and improve the operation of its fuel cell system. The Carbon Fiber Molecular Sieve and electrical swing adsorption allow ZeTek to replace a non-regenerative chemical scrubbing system that made its fuel cell less versatile.

ZeTek will have a non-exclusive license to manufacture Carbon Fiber Composite Molecular Sieve systems and an exclusive license to use them in alkaline fuel cell systems. The technology was developed by Rod Judkins, director of ORNL's Fossil Energy Program, and Tim Burchell, both members of the Metals and Ceramics Division. Others involved in developing the technology were Charlie Weaver and Bill Chilcoat, both retired from ORNL.

"All of this could lead one day to an entirely new way of generating and distributing power," Judkins said. "This could also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen our dependence on foreign oil."

ORNL is a DOE multiprogram facility operated by UT-Battelle. ZeTek Power Plc. has administrative headquarters in London. Executive offices for ZeTek Power Corp. are in New York City. The company has research facilities in Geel, Belgium, Chambery, France, and Moscow. It also has a manufacturing plant in Cologne, Germany.