Pennsylvania Clean-Tech Innovator Scales up 3D Printing for Fuel Cells

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Update: This article has been revised for accuracy.

Known for its clean energy solutions, WATT Fuel Cell is expanding its additive manufacturing (AM) operations in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. This upgrade increases the plant’s capacity to produce its flagship products and helps WATT meet the rising demand for clean energy solutions ranging from homes to industries such as oil & gas, rail, and telecommunications.

The company’s Mount Pleasant facility has added 20,000 square feet to its manufacturing space and office area. Notably, this expansion improves capabilities for producing 3D printed tubular solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), a type of clean energy technology. These cells, shaped like tubes, efficiently convert fuels such as propane, natural gas and natural gas blended with hydrogen into electricity, offering a greener alternative to traditional power sources.

WATT’s 3D printed SOFC. Image courtesy of WATT Fuel Cell.

Beyond scaling up the size of the facility, the expansion focuses on improving the technology behind WATT’s production. The introduction of custom ceramic printers and advanced robotic automation supports 24/7 operational capabilities, aiming to increase both the output and efficiency of fuel cell manufacturing. These additions are expected to escalate commercial deliveries and improve production efficiency, crucial steps as the company braces for significant commercial growth.

WATT NOMAD, a recreational fuel cell system for RVs or boats. Image courtesy of WATT Fuel Cell.

Founded in 2010 by a team of fuel cell industry veterans, the clean tech firm secured an investment of $82.3 million in November 2022, with generator company Generac as a minority investor, which intends to combine WATT units with battery storage in microgrids.

WATT has begun commercializing its trademarked distributed energy solid oxide fuel cell products to provide what the company describes as “environmentally responsible energy solutions” to various power markets.

“WATT has added significant capacity to our manufacturing operations with this expansion,” explained Danielle Ramaley, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at WATT. “The growing demand from our customers is clear, and with this expansion, WATT now has the capacity to produce WATT HOME, WATT REMOTE, and WATT NOMAD units to meet their rising power needs.”

Expanding on the achievements of its previous solid oxide offerings, WATT has developed three market-specific products, each tailored to a specific market. WATT HOME features a SOFC unit designed for residential use that provides reliable power to homes as both a primary source and a backup during outages.

For industrial clients in remote locations where power reliability is crucial, WATT REMOTE includes a potent SOFC unit that ensures critical operations have the energy they need, regardless of the location. Lastly, WATT NOMAD caters to recreational users with a portable SOFC unit for clean and quiet power for outdoor activities like camping or boating.

WATT REMOTE is a fuel cell system for remote locations. Image courtesy of WATT Fuel Cell.

All these products are made using WATT’s proprietary AM Process (AMP), which helps produce high-quality, cost-effective fuel cell units. According to the company, this process eliminates many legacy issues that have plagued the commercialization of fuel cells, such as high production costs, material inefficiencies, and scalability challenges.

Traditional fuel cell production often involves expensive materials like platinum and rare earth elements, which significantly drives up costs. Additionally, complex manufacturing processes require multiple steps, like high-temperature sintering, coating, and precise assembly of different layers, leading to high labor expenses and operational costs. Material waste is another major issue, as conventional methods often result in a significant amount of materials not being used in the final product. Durability issues also affect traditional fuel cells, with thermal cycling causing materials to degrade or fail prematurely.

Instead, using AM, WATT can precisely manufacture complex parts, reducing waste and production costs. The AMP process enables WATT to integrate multiple functions into single parts, reducing the number of components needed and simplifying assembly. This not only lowers costs but also improves the durability and efficiency of the fuel cells. So, WATT can produce SOFCs for small-scale power applications ranging from 500W to 1.5kW. AMP technology is ideal here to improve scalability and customization, making it easier to advance the commercialization of fuel cell technology.

Fuel cell technology vs. conventional generators. Image courtesy of WATT Fuel Cell.

Additionally, WATT Fuel Cell is set to gain from the new Residential Clean Energy Credit. This tax credit, available through 2034, covers up to 30% of the cost of installing clean energy devices in homes, including WATT’s fuel cells. By lowering the initial expense, this credit makes WATT’s innovative solutions more affordable and encourages homeowners to adopt clean energy technologies.

The facility’s expansion includes a significant leap in WATT’s AM capabilities. With scaled production automation now a part of the facility, WATT aims to further enhance its quality processes, scale up commercial deliveries, and improve overall production efficiency.

WATT CEO and Co-Founder Caine Finnerty says expanding its AM prowess is a significant milestone for the company as the team prepares for the next phase of WATT’s growth. This expansion is not merely a response to current demands but a forward-looking move anticipating the future development of clean energy solutions accessible to as many people as possible.

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