An Imperial startup whose technology could help kickstart the hydrogen economy has raised £35 million from investors.
Bramble Energy, formed in 2015 to commercialise chemistry research from Imperial and UCL. It has developed a new type of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell which can be produced using existing industrial infrastructure. Fuel cells, which convert hydrogen to electricity are of growing importance to the UK’s future energy mix. PEM fuel cells, developed mainly for use in transport and portable applications, could be particularly valuable for decarbonising transport applications such as heavy goods vehicles that cannot easily be powered using batteries.
Unlike typical fuel cells, Bramble’s PCB Fuel Cell (PCBFC™) can be produced on existing printed circuit board (PCB) production lines. This use of well-established production infrastructure could dramatically reduce time to market and up-front expenditure. Because PCB production is standardized and global, Bramble believes that leveraging it is the key to deploying fuel cells in sufficient numbers to achieve significant decarbonization. The company estimates that one current PCB factory could manufacture more than 5 GigaWatts of fuel cell modules per year using its technology – four times more than the world’s total fuel cell production capacity in 2019.
Hydrogen fuel is a growing component of worldwide energy production. Fuel cells play a key role here, with over 80,000 units shipped in 2020. The UK government has identified hydrogen as essential to a low carbon future, announcing in August 2021 its vision for a world-leading hydrogen economy.
“In the context of moving towards renewables and away from petrochemical fuels, we need a range of technological solutions to electrify transport, home heating and other applications. Fuel cells can be used in place of batteries for long range shipping, portable industrials, plant machinery, HGVs and buses, as well as for range-extension in battery-powered electric vehicles,” said Professor Anthony Kucernak, Chief Scientific Officer and co-Founder of Bramble.
The £35 million investment, led by HydrogenOne Capital Growth plc and supported by the company’s existing investors (BGF, IP Group, Parkwalk Advisors and the UCL Technology Fund) will enable Bramble to further develop its fuel cell products, expand its markets and grow its team (currently 35) to a headcount of around 100.
Bramble Energy’s technology
Bramble Energy’s technology is based on research carried out by Professor Kucernak, who is Professor of Physical Chemistry at Imperial and Professor Daniel J. Brett, Professor of Electrochemical Engineering at University College London. Bramble has an exclusive, worldwide licence to three patents filed at Imperial.
To date, Bramble has specialised in the development of portable fuel cells and has announced partnerships with Linde (BOC) for the production of a portable fuel cell generator, and Taylor Construction Plant to provide portable LED lighting towers for use on industrial sites. In 2021, the company produced a prototype 1kW hydrogen fuel cell intended as a replacement for diesel generators.
Professor Kucernak continued: “Use of fuel cells can offer vast reduction in CO2 emissions – a 1kW petrol generator produces more emissions than 100 passenger cars. We realised early in our research that to make the most of this promise, we needed to find a way to produce robust fuel cells in a scalable way.”
Dr Tom Mason, CEO and Co-Founder of Bramble Energy, said: “The UK is playing a leading role in the worldwide transition to a greener economy, and this series B funding will help us continue solving the greatest barriers to the adoption of fuel cells, enabled by our ground-breaking manufacturing route, potential to scale and low production costs.”
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