Tinius Olsen Helps Drive Automotive Sustainability Through Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

The race to meet net zero is hotting up as the development of alternatives to battery power start to come online. Tinius Olsen is currently supporting one of them alongside the UK’s leading developer of hydrogen fuel cell technology, Intelligent Energy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently announced that ‘a new electric vehicle was being registered in the UK every 60 seconds’ as he outlined the government’s decision to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles until 2035. That’s just under half a million cars a year at the present rate but the question is already being asked “is electric really going to be the best option in the drive to reach net zero?”

Let’s consider the pros and cons of electric, or battery powered vehicles. On the upside they’re obviously very environmentally friendly, cheaper to run than the fossil fuel variety, require less maintenance and some of them are extremely quick.

On the downside there’s limited battery range, battery lifespan issues and cost, long charging times and, ironically, environmental impact implications based on current non-sustainable electricity generation and the processes and materials involved with battery production. And they’re very expensive.

So, all things considered, if the downsides are steering you away from the electric battery option, is there any other power source you can fall back on that may not change your current fuelling activities and still help towards stemming climate change? Hydrogen fuel cells might just be the answer.

Shell Pipeline Inspection using hydrogen fuel cell powered UAV - Tinius Olsen

Fig 1.

Shell Pipeline Inspection using hydrogen fuel cell powered UAV

“Firstly, neither of these technologies are new,” says Oliver Jackson, Principle Research Engineer at Intelligent Energy based in Loughborough, who are the UK’s leading developer of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

‘What we recognise as the first hydrogen fuel cell was developed by Welshman William Grove in 1838, with the modern electric battery invented by Alessandro Volta some forty two years earlier. Both technologies were vying for the upper hand in terms of vehicular power-plants until the internal combustion engine proved more convenient to use and the die was cast for the next 140 years or so” continues Oliver.

Fuel cells themselves work like batteries, but they do not run down or need recharging and they produce electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied. The unit consists of two electrodes—a negative electrode (or anode) and a positive electrode (or cathode)—sandwiched around an electrolyte.

A fuel, such as hydrogen, is fed to the anode and air is fed to the cathode. In a hydrogen fuel cell, a catalyst at the anode separates hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons, which take different paths to the cathode. The electrons go through an external circuit, creating a flow of electricity, whereas the protons migrate through the electrolyte to the cathode, where they unite with oxygen and the electrons to produce water vapour and heat.

“It’s an intrinsically simple system but highly efficient and of course extremely green, producing only water vapour out of the exhaust pipe, so to speak, and doesn’t rely on electricity from the National Grid,” continues Oliver

“The technology can be applied across a broad range of uses too, such as the aerospace industry, with the eventual aim of replacing fossil fuel powered jet engines with electrically powered alternatives now becoming increasingly realistic. It’s really, really exciting stuff.”

Intelligent Energy emerged as a spin out from Loughborough University, where the first fuel cell project began in 1988, in 2001. Twenty two years later, following collaborations with the likes of Suzuki, Airbus, Boeing and latterly BMW, the company now employs 250 people and has partners and customers around the globe.

Tinius Olsen

Fig 2.

Intelligent Energy

“The technology has come a long way in the last 35 years or so. Our collaborations with major global companies have been a major contributor to this and these market forces are continuing to drive things forward. The need to reach net zero is obviously the main consideration, as well as reducing the cost but achieving this will need lighter, cheaper and even more efficient fuel cells to help achieve these targets – this is now our biggest challenge.”

“This puts materials testing at the forefront of R&D, because if lighter or cheaper materials are found to work just as well, after a rigorous and extensive testing programme, then that saving can be built into the bottom line, creating a more cost effective, viable option.

“Our own in-house research team are intensively using the Tinius Olsen equipment to test materials for mechanical properties, tensile, compressive and bending strength, stiffness etc. If we’re going to get a finer material at a much lighter weight, we need to make sure it’s strong and durable enough for its intended purpose.”

“The testing lab is also used to test other areas such as electrical resistance and testing of coatings. Another key area is the transport properties of materials such as the carbon papers we use for our gas diffusion.

“For all these things we need to be applying different forces to see how these properties change at different pressures, and so on.”

“There are also things like gaskets and seals, we do quite a lot of testing on those, as well as supporting other departments across the business such as the mechanical design team, where they need to test new designs and prototypes. Material properties data is used by our modelling teams and quality and production teams for things like testing batch variability of products and defect analysis.”

Intelligent Energy - Tinius Olsen

Fig 3.

Tinius Olsen equipment to test materials for mechanical properties, tensile, compressive and bending strength, stiffness etc.

“All in all, the Tinius Olsen equipment and support we receive is fundamental to what we do, so you could say they’re very much on the front line of these developments, generating confidence in materials used and the finished product”

“Customers can only be as confident in your products as you are, so the more testing you undertake the more you trust your work and the more willing you are to supply customers and not have to worry. If the product isn’t to specification then it’s obviously going to be sent back, resulting in increased support in getting it to work as expected. So we need to get it right the first time and continually improve it so that the customer’s performance continues to get better.

Intelligent Energy has not been distracted by changes to net zero deadlines and is continuing its development of hydrogen fuel cell technology at a rapid pace. With major automotive manufacturers such as BMW and Toyota actively producing their own hydrogen powered cars, IE’s work could well see this technology competing with, if not replacing, the current battery powered options.

It’s definitely full steam ahead, Rishi Sunak’s 2035 announcement or not…………….

From Trash to Major Interstate Repair

How bottles and jars are changing the face of civil engineering projects and the testing needs behind it all.

How many tons of recycled glass would it take to build an emergency support for one of the busiest four-lane highways in the world? I honestly wouldn’t have a clue but I know someone that does.

Theresa Andrejack Loux is the Chief Technical Officer for AERO Aggregates, a Pennsylvania-based company with a second plant in Florida and another in California coming on stream later this year. The company takes your empty bottles and jars from recycling plants and landfill sites, turning them into an eco-friendly aggregate for use in a myriad of civil engineering applications.

Foamed Glass Aggregate (FGA) has been used as backfill in numerous projects, primarily where the soil underneath is soft and compressible and cannot support too much excess weight, such as an overnight parking apron for airplanes at Philadelphia International Airport.

The Foamed Glass Aggregate weighs around one sixth of regular soil - Tinius Olsen

Fig 1.

The Foamed Glass Aggregate weighs around one sixth of regular soil

In fact, it is so effective that it was being used to build up the damaged section of the Cottman Avenue exit ramp on the I-95 interstate on the outskirts of Philadelphia, which collapsed following a tanker truck fire in June this year. A staggering 215,000 cubic feet FGA was used to support a temporary, six-lane highway while contractors rebuild the actual bridge.

“FGA is absolutely ideal for this project as it only weighs around one sixth of regular soil due to it being full of air bubbles. In the case of I-95, this will help protect the ageing sewage lines running underneath the structure as they simply couldn’t withstand the weight of another 20ft of traditional soil material,” said Theresa.

Theresa Andrejack using Tinius Olsen equipment and Horizon software to test the aggregate

Fig 2.

Theresa Andrejack using Tinius Olsen equipment and Horizon software to test the aggregate

“It was an awful accident and has caused huge inconvenience to everyone in the Philadelphia area so we’re just delighted we can help and get things moving again extremely quickly.”

The manufacturing process of the aggregate starts with cleaning the glass and then grinding it into a powder and subjecting it to a three-phase cleaning and filtering procedure. Workers then add a proprietary, mineral-based foaming agent and heat the powder in a kiln at 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit.

The material emerges from the kiln looking like a long, gray sheet of cake. Upon cooling, the material cracks into gravel-like pieces.

“We aim for the bulk density of our standard product to not be any heavier than 15 pounds per cubic foot, which corresponds to about 240 kilograms per cubic meter. We follow ASTM C29 standard for this type of bulk density measurement.”

“The other test that we run on a daily basis is a confined compressive strength test, which is what we use our Tinius Olsen 150ST machines for in each of our Philadelphia and Florida plants, with one on order for California. The company’s experience and input has been invaluable in developing the product from the get go and being a local company to ourselves has been an even bigger bonus.”

“The test method used for these compressive tests is EN 1097-11 although we’ve started down the road of trying to get a similar test standard in place at ASTM, which will obviously take some time.”

But where does all the required glass come from?

“Most communities do have some type of recycling program in place. Sometimes the trend in recent years has been that some communities have dropped glass from the materials that they’re collecting through single-stream programs but certainly there’s still many programs that do collect glass.”

“We work with recycling entities that are local to our plants to source the glass product that we need. We generally take lower-value glass because it’s the mixed color, the smaller pieces that generally can’t be used by a bottling operation or even a fiberglass plant. The glass product that we use generally goes to landfill if we don’t take it”

“When our California plant opens later this year, we will have the capacity to divert over 500 million bottles per year from landfill.”

It’s been an amazing journey for Aero Aggregates and a perfect example of how materials testing is vital to the development of any exciting new product. This is especially true with FGA, which can make such a huge difference to everyday life and Tinius Olsen looks forward to helping develop this material even further in the future.

Oh and it took the equivalent of 6.5 million glass bottles in FGA to build the supporting structure for the I-95 emergency repair………..

Tinius Olsen Integral to Eco Friendly Aluminum Composite Panels Manufacturing

The leading manufacturer of aluminum composite panels in the Middle East, who are also delivering on their goal of achieving a sustainable business ecosystem, have been benefitting from the input of Tinius Olsen equipment and ongoing support.

RMK Industries supplies to more than 25 countries around the world. Their primary stronghold is the Middle Eastern, Asian and African markets and are trusted by internationally renown contractors, consultants and architects. They have undertaken projects with international corporations and governmental organizations such as Shangri-la Hotels, Coca-Cola, Emaar and the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai.

Fig. 1

Bend/Flex test setup on wood sample

“RMK Industries was established more than 40 years ago and was initially focused on the trading of architectural facade products. Over the years, we transitioned into the manufacturing of high-quality architectural products and are now proud to be one of the leading manufacturers of aluminum composite panels and pre-painted aluminum coils in the Middle East,” said Quality Control Manager, Charmaine Timario

“Our aluminum composite panels are formulated using the finest raw materials and the latest technologies, resulting resulting in premium quality products that match or exceed industry benchmark standards, ensuring compliance with the most stringent international standards such as ASTM, NFPA , LEED by USGBC, EN and ISO.”

Aluminum composite panels are lightweight cladding panels for use as external building facades and fascia to improve the aesthetic appeal and weather resistance of buildings. The flat panels consist of two thin aluminum sheets bonded to a modified mineral filled fire retardant core and when correctly specified, installed and officially certified to perform to code, regulations and fire safety laws, have several advantages including robust durability, light weight and high weather resistance as well as being cost effective, easy to install and low maintenance.

Fig. 2

Preparation of test with 25kN Universal Testing Machine with Wedge grips clamping on test sample.

“Across the entire product portfolio of RMK, we are invested in the quality of our products through continuous enhancement of our production processes, a strong focus on quality control and, especially, creating a green footprint though all our manufacturing processes,” continued Charmaine.

“Achieving a sustainable ecosystem has been a core goal of ours since we got into manufacturing, and we have taken and continue to take, the necessary steps to achieve this goal. Our facilities are powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and water reuse systems. We also promote the use of electric vehicles, having installed electric car charging stations in our facilities. We have adopted the use of sustainable methods throughout our manufacturing processes. We’ve done this by having a solvent recovery system in our innovatory coil coating line, ensuring the reuse of any wastage during production.”

Adhesive peel test set up

Fig. 3

180° peel strength test of adhesive material.

“Our aluminum coil coating line uses chrome-free chemicals and lead-free paints and we are one of the first companies in the region to be equipped with a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) that neutralizes 99%+ of air pollutants during the coil coating process, helping us minimize our environmental impact. Our products are 100% recyclable and are LEED-certified, contributing up to 30 points towards LEED projects.”

“Our green initiatives will help us achieve a positive and far-reaching impact on our planet, with an estimated clean energy generation of more than 19,000 MWh and more than 8000 tonnes of carbon emissions that will be avoided.”

With this and production in mind, the company ensures each product reaches all recognized international standards, with RMK operating their own in-house testing lab undertaking a wide range of tests through the entire manufacturing process.

“We conduct numerous mechanical property tests on our products using our Tinius Olsen 25ST, such as the 180 degrees peel strength test, drum peel strength, tensile strength, punch shear strength, bending strength and various others.”

Adhesive peel test running

Fig. 4

180° peel strength testing in action.

“After a year of acquiring the 25ST, it has proved to be exceptional in meeting our material testing requirements. It helps us assure our products are delivered to the highest of standards.”

“We chose Tinius Olsen equipment due to its history, reliability and ease of use in the field of material testing. With Tinius Olsen, we can ensure our products are meeting the highest quality standards, helping us deliver the best to our customers. We are also happy with the technical support team who visits us both off and on site from time to time.”