FuelCellChina Interview: Reducing Costs, Advancing Sustainability

Published: 2023-09-22 

FuelCellChina.com

 

Intlvac Thin Film, a Canadian advanced manufacturing company that has a thirty-year history in the thin film deposition and materials science industry with clients in the aerospace & defence, medicine, telecommunications, energy, optics and photonics industries. This June, FuelCellChina has noticed Intlvac has begun selling vacuum systems into the fuel cell research and manufacturing industries.


Mr. Dino Deligiannis, CEO of Intlvac said that their plasma-enhanced chemical vapour and physical vapour deposition (PECVD and PVD) technology can reduce the amount of expensive and scarce noble metals used in fuel cell construction by up to 90%. With decades of experience focusing on the development and deployment of PECVD and PVD technology, we can deposit very thin layers of noble metals without compromising the fuel cell’s performance. This massive reduction in scarce noble metals, specifically Palladium and Platinum, not only drives down the cost but is a sustainable solution for the volume deployment of fuel cell technology in multiple applications.

 

Today it's our honor to have Mr. Dino Deligiannis, CEO of Intlvac to have an interview and discuss their hydrogen and fuel cell sectors applications, strategies, as well as their marketing plan including China.

 

Hi, Mr Dino Deligiannis, thanks a lot for your time. Could you please provide us with some background information about Intlvac Thin Film, including its history, key areas of expertise, and its journey into the field of thin film deposition and materials science?

We concentrate on the thin film realm, which are coating thickness typically less than one micron.  Thin films drive every technical device in our world today and are used as transistors, resistors, barrier layers for gases, protective coatings, mirrors, anti-reflective coatings and complex optical filters used in drug discovery, virus detection, and most recently as protective coatings for Bipolar Plates that form the bulk of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell. 

 

Building on the previous question, can you elaborate on the specific technologies and innovations that have allowed Intlvac to excel in the thin film deposition and materials science industry for over three decades?

Two major avenues of research have been to develop Diamond Like Carbon thin films, this material which is grown from common hydrocarbon gases is a mixture of pure diamond and graphite that we have learned to tailor for various functional properties such as Heat Spreaders, Corrosion Protection, anti-scratch, electrical conductivity, which coincidently are very useful in the manufacture of long-life Bipolar Plates. The second avenue has been the process of depositing precious metals such as platinum, gold, and iridium using our vacuum plasma technology, at low temperatures, which is ideal for the plastic used to make Proton Exchange Membranes (PEM). Both the technologies we have developed operate at very low pressures similar to the vacuum of outer space.

 

You mentioned that Intlvac's technology can significantly reduce the use of expensive noble metals in fuel cell construction. Could you explain the principles behind your plasma-enhanced chemical vapour deposition (PECVD) and physical vapour deposition (PVD) technologies that enable this reduction?

Our PECVD coating technology uses a radio frequency to excite gases that are fed into a vacuum enclosure, then by applying suitable voltage and power in the plasma, we can break the hydrocarbon gas up into the hydrogen and carbon atoms, depending on how we apply the power, the carbon atoms will condense and connect to each with a graphite bond or a diamond bond, the mixture allows us to achieve different properties that are needed for fuel cell components.  Our PVD technology is where we deposit our precious metals, and in that case, we also have a vacuum enclosure, but this time we start with a solid target that is a disk or rectangle of the precious metal.  We then do the equivalent of sandblasting using a heavy gas such as Argon.  The heavy gas knocks atoms off the target and they stick to the first thing that they hit, and this way we coat the surface.  Other portions of our technology allow us to do this at relatively low temperatures and to drive the coating deeper into the part that we are coating.

 

Can you provide examples of applications of how your technology has enhanced the performance of fuel cells while simultaneously reducing costs, especially in terms of noble metals, such as Palladium and Platinum?

Conventional use of precious metals has been by turning them into powders or electroplating them onto parts such as the BPP. Our low-pressure plasma deposition techniques deposit materials with higher energy and density, and coatings using up to 80% less material can have a big impact when making an electrolyzer that uses precious metals as catalysts to convert electricity into hydrogen.  Customized blending ratios are easy to achieve. 

 

Considering the global interest in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, which specific markets and applications do you believe hold the most promise for your products and expertise?

Transportation is the key area we are focusing on for hydrogen adoption.  Cars, trucks, trains and planes can all run on energy made available from hydrogen, whether it is to create electricity to turn a motor wheel on an electric car, or burning Ammonia as aviation fuel, the ability to create hydrogen, burn it or convert it to electricity will be our solution for decarbonization. Intlvac Thin Film coatings will be key to ensuring cost-effective solutions are available to everyone.

 

Do you have any plans or strategies in place to expand Intlvac's presence in the Chinese market, particularly in the context of hydrogen and fuel cell applications?

We think China will be a very important market for us and we would like to explore business partnerships with partners for the hydrogen fuel cell industry. 

 

Given the evolving landscape of international trade and diplomacy, what challenges and opportunities do you foresee for Intlvac's operations in China and globally?


We delivered our first machine into China more than 10 years ago and during the pandemic, we delivered a large precious metal machine and this year we have more machines shipping.  To better support our customers in China we have added technical and front-office staff in the last five years from China and have grown our sales and service network there.  Our technology is not military, or nuclear and therefore is not restricted for sale.

 

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