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McPhy: working well under pressure

May 24, 2020
A Pangea SI Expert

Note – this article was originally published on gasworld.com

Hydrogen energy is at a turning point. Startups of the past decade are transitioning from R&D driven organisations to embrace industrialisation. Independent players are partnering with power companies or industrial gases majors to bring their technologies to international markets. McPhy is an example of a company managing this transformation as they prepare for a profitable future with a purpose. I spoke with Laurent Carme, CEO of McPhy to find out how they are navigating the dynamics in the high pressure, high growth hydrogen energy sector.

 

What is the history of McPhy?
LC: Our former CEO founded the company in 2008. The original idea was solid state storage of Hydrogen in metal hydrides branded McStore. We were a pure R&D outfit at that time. As markets evolved and technologies developed, we had to take the brave decision to transfer our focus from the original concept to work more closely with Hydrogen electrolysers and fuelling stations. Thanks to this diversification, we now offer customers an integrated offer of hydrogen production and distribution equipment. Hydrogen as a source of clean energy is the common thread that has defined our journey.

So, what corporate developments are in plan?
LC: Our product lines are now well defined, and proven. The next stage of the journey is what we refer to as ‘industrialisation’. We are focusing on standardisation of our products and alignment of our supply chains to their requirements. Scale will grow and costs will fall. That means that zero-carbon hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from renewables, will become more affordable – accelerating the roll out of competitive, high-performance zero-carbon hydrogen ecosystems. In fact, I joined McPhy a few months ago to oversee this transition.

The products that you have chosen to focus on, what are they?
LC: Two ranges will dominate. Hydrogen fuelling stations and large-scale power to hydrogen energy schemes. We work mostly with alkaline electrolyte systems, which are our core expertise. Alkaline electrolyte equipment avoids the need for water purification and has a proven track record over many decades. This provides a high degree of confidence in the reliability and extended lifetime of such equipment. So, for very large capital investments customers sometimes regard it as a low risk option. On the other hand, we can see potential for proton exchange membrane (PEM) systems: a technology for which McPhy has integration capabilities and good experience.

Beyond the track record point, how do PEM and alkaline electrolyte electrolyser technologies compare?
LC: That’s a great question. The reality is that hydrogen energy is still a comparatively new area and there have not been many instances where a true like for like comparison has been possible on a commercial scale. However, one of our latest Power to Gas projects, Jupiter 1000 will enable this. It has an installed capacity of 1MW split equally across an alkaline electrolyte system and a PEM electrolyser. Ask me this question again a year from now and I will be able to give you a very precise answer!

How are McPhy hydrogen electrolysers differentiated?
LC: One aspect is pressure. Our electrolysers operate at high pressure. We are not talking about 350 bar or 700 bar that hydrogen fuelling systems are designed for: in the electrolyser, high-pressure means 30 bar.

How does high-pressure in the electrolyser stack make a difference?
LC: It’s all about electrical current density and process intensity. Compared to an atmospheric pressure system, the high-pressure electrolyser technology can deliver a lot more hydrogen from a much smaller footprint. In fact, an atmospheric pressure system needs 3 to 5 times more space than ours. At McPhy, we work well under pressure!

Tell us more about the team working at McPhy.
LC: Since our foundation in France, in 2008, we have grown organically and through various acquisitions in Germany and Italy. Our commercial reach is global, and our industrial base is strongly anchored in Europe. In France, we have the capacity to produce more than 25 filling stations per year. And in Italy, we can turn out up to 300 MW of electrolyser capacity annually. So, we are an internationally diverse team. What binds us together is our mission and purpose. Our strategy centres on helping customers in the industrial, mobility and energy sectors to successfully transition to business models based on zero-carbon hydrogen, reconciling economic performance and corporate social responsibility.

“Independent players are partnering with power companies or industrial gases majors to bring their technologies to international markets.”
Speak to the leading industrial gas Expert who wrote this article Expert Bio Expand

Expert Bio:
With a career spanning 25+ years within the energy and chemical sectors, this Expert has held various international leadership roles for 10+ years, and received several European Business/Technology Innovation awards.

Key roles and experiences include:
Principal at a leading international Energy & Chemicals consulting company:
– Energy and chemicals sector consulting for private equity investors, corporate clients and small & medium enterprises worldwide.

Managing Director of own Consulting company:
– Industrial gases, hydrogen, LNG, carbon dioxide and specialty gases industry expert.
– Consultant on numerous M&A transactions.
– Advisor to international private equity funds; financial and consulting firms.
– Strategic growth consulting for companies at all levels in the industrial gases value chain
– Engaged in consulting projects regarding: Refrigerant Gases, Gas Cylinders and Valves, Digital transformation and e-commerce, Marketing strategy and sales effectiveness, Product development and commercialisation, Business strategy development and growth planning.

Global Head of Specialty Gases & Equipment at Linde Gas, a DAX30 Industrial Gases “blue-chip” company:
– Worked globally with local business teams in 40 countries spanning six continents.
– Led consistent profitable growth ahead of market, achievement of world leading market share and establishment of a high impact global brand.

Global Director, Specialty Gases at BOC Gases, a FTSE100 Industrial Gases “blue-chip” company.

Relevant Educational Background:
– Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering.

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