AMS Spring 2023

Generator Leader Generac Invests in 3D Printed Fuel Cell Stack Startup

Inkbit

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WATT Fuel Cell, a Pennsylvania-based maker of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) stacks produced with additive manufacturing (AM), announced that the company received an investment from Generac Power Systems, a $2 billion American manufacturer of residential backup generator systems. Along with the investment, a Generac executive will join WATT’s board of directors.

WATT has been refining its patented method for AM-centered SOFC stack production for over a decade. This has been an especially pivotal year for the company: in addition to partnering with natural gas supplier EQT to develop gas-powered electric grid solutions for utilities company Peoples Gas, WATT has also made strides in reducing even further the carbon emissions footprint of its production method.

WATT has also gained ETL certification for its 1500W Imperium SOFC System, the largest generator reliant on its proprietary fuel cell stack. As ETL certification is one of the most widely-used equipment safety certification standards, WATT has passed a key threshold on its path to scaling up the production capacity of its most powerful systems.

In a press release announcing Generac’s investment in WATT Fuel Cell, WATT’s founder, CEO, and president, Caine Finnerty, commented, “Generac is the market leader in residential backup power, with a proven and growing brand…Partnering with and investing in companies with market leading energy-based technologies like WATT will maintain and extend that lead.” Patrick Forsythe, Generac’s CTO, commented, “Generac is excited to join WATT’s existing investor base and looks forward to collaborating with the WATT team towards the integration of this innovative technology into the Generac Home Energy Ecosystem. We assessed the global fuel cell industry and were impressed by the technological advancements the WATT team has made.”

The main advantage to SOFC stacks is that they have the ability to run on a variety of different fuel sources. For instance, the ETL status given to WATT’s 1500W Imperium system certifies it to be powered by either natural gas or liquid propane.

At the same time, SOFC stacks can also be powered by hydrogen, which will obviously become an increasingly valuable capability the more that hydrogen fuel supply chains are developed long-term. That scenario seems less and less far-fetched all the time. Despite the recent respite from skyrocketing prices, it’s worth keeping in mind that oil is now considered “cheap” at the same levels that, in 2021, were multi-year highs.

Thus, the impetuses that have led to rapidly resurgent focus on renewable energy are unlikely to go away any time soon, which means that all the interests concerned with building up sustainable energy supply chains will pay more and more attention to AM. In particular, this will mean focus on ceramics, as WATT’s proprietary production method for its SOFC stack centers around printing ceramic tubes. In turn, the prevalence of ceramic AM applications is also sure to continue to grow, to name just one likely specific consequence of this nexus. All of this isn’t to say that the scale-up of AM or renewables will be smooth, straightforward processes, but rather that both are starting to feel at least slightly more realistic.

3DPrint.com and SmarTech Analysis are hosting Additive Manufacturing Strategies in New York City on February 7-9, 2023. Register for the event here to learn from and network with the most exciting companies and individuals in AM.

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