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AGRAL Report Summary

Project ID: 654216
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AGRAL (Development of the optimum AGRAL cermet manufacturing process for aluminium inert anode application and fuel cell interconnect plates.)

Reporting period: 2015-05-01 to 2016-10-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The Aluminum industry currently relies on carbon anodes for the electrolysis process involved in the production of primary Aluminum. This dependence leads to air pollution and additional costs. The objective of the project is to replace the current carbon anode by the AGRAL inert anode leading to zero direct CO2 emission during the electrolysis process and an increase of life duration of the anodes. In this project, the AGRAL cermet will be developed and tested for two applications: the inert anode for the aluminum electrolysis and hydrogen and fuel cell interconnect protection.
This potential breakthrough technology can be a cornerstone of a low-carbon production of aluminum. Indeed, carbon anodes are responsible for 7.04 million of tons of CO2 per year in EU for 4 million of tons of primary Aluminum produced (in 2013).
In order to reduce the global CO2 emission, the European Union (ETS) assigned quotas to industry; the Aluminum industry included; which is estimated to cost this industry more than 140M€ in 2020. Besides, the carbon anodes are consumable and need to be changed every 25 days.
The AGRAL (Advanced Green Aluminum Anodes) project aims at developing at the industrial level a multi-material inert anode based on a cermet, mix of oxide as the major compound and metallic compound, coated on a metallic substrate. This technique already showed outstanding properties (during lab scale tests) in high temperature and corrosive media. The project leader identified different ways to produce this cermet (Thermal spray (HVOF, cold spray), powder metallurgy (HIP, natural sintering, dip-coating and co-sintering). The objective is to study these processes in detail thanks to partners mastering them and develop the best candidate for the industrial level.
In the field of hydrogen and fuel cell application, the AGRAL cermet’s properties are interesting to increase the durability of the solid oxide fuel cells and electrolysis cells (SOFC/SOEC). For SOEC, the core of the technology is the stack of the electrolysis cells separated by interconnect plates which should present very high properties against corrosion.

The AGRAL project is a 3-years project (kick-off date: 01 May 2015) with a budget around 8,5 M€ gathering 9 partners from 5 European countries: RioTinto-Aluminium Pechiney (RTA-AP, project leader), Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA), Ecole Nationale d’ingénieurs de St Etienne (ENISE) [FR], Flame Spray Technologies (FST) [NL], Bodycote Heiss-Isostatisches Pressen GmbH (BDC), Fraunhofer – Institute for Manufacturing and Advanced Materials (IFAM), Aachen University – Institute for Materials Application in Mechanical Engineering (RWTH) [DE], Safe Cronite (CCZ) [CZ], and Ecoinnovazione (ECOI) [IT].

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The project works in parallel on the development of the inert anode and on the transferability of the AGRAL cermet to hydrogen and fuel cell application.
One of the first steps during the first 18 months of the project, was to define the specifications of the powder and process for inert anode application and hydrogen fuel cell application.

Concerning the inert anode application, the following results have been obtained:
The powder specifications have been defined as well as the lab scale and pre-prototype anode designs.
For the thermal spray method, the first thermal spray results obtained by FST and ENISE showed that powder technical specifications needed to be adjusted (the quality of sourced powder has a major impact on the robustness of the process). Wide circles of suppliers have been contacted to facilitate delivery of powder with right specification for the project. The development of the eGun technology has been continued by FST and improved eGun performances and heat management.
Work also progressed concerning the powder metallurgy technique: at RWTH, HIP simulations were accomplished with existing material parameters of steel and simulation model for the lab anode design
Besides, an electrolysis bench test was designed by AP for the testing of pre-prototype anodes. Main parts have been delivered and assembled.

The transferability study to Hydrogen and Fuel cell application also led to some results:
In order to ensure a good preparation, ink and slurry needed for different techniques have been adapted and screen printing specimens have been realized with AP powder. The screen printing process with this powder is now well controlled and the thickness may be adapted if needed.
In addition, the deposition by CCDS (Computer Controlled Detonation Spraying) process is validated; CCDS can produce thin coating.
The suspension thermal spray technology (HVOF) has also been studied. It turns out that this solution is not able to produce any coating. The researches have been reoriented to eGun technologies and plasma spraying with fine powder.
Electrical tests have been made in order to measure conductivity and resistance of the different layers produced with these different techniques. Measurements showed a good conductivity with adapted thermal treatment for CCDS and screen printing techniques, compatible with targets for fuel cell and hydrogen applications. Tests were also made on reference contact layer to determine the perfect electric conductivity.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The AGRAL project is expected to have impacts on different levels: ecological, economical and sociological.

- The AGRAL project will bring economically viable solutions and technologies allowing an ambitious reduction in specific Greenhous Gas (GHG) emission intensity.
The use of the AGRAL cermet in the primary Aluminum production is expected to decrease of 35% direct CO2 emissions.
Concerning the hydrogen and fuel cell application, hydrogen is currently mainly produced through Steam Methane Reforming which is a high CO2 emission process. The improvement of the durability of the hydrogen and fuel cell will enable to have an economically viable technology to provide a non-fossil energy source that could be used in many applications.
- This technology could also be a decisive trigger for Europe to meet its commitment in terms of Climate Change, regarding the 2050 Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy. Indeed, inert anode technology will also remove other hazardous components such as SO2 and PAHs. Besides, the technologies developed in the project can have other applications such as the steel and aluminum or cermet industries.

- The reduction of CO2 emission will lead to the reduction of the compliance costs of the EU emissions trading system (ETS). This will allow the European aluminum industry to recover competitively.
- The AGRAL project will also participate in boosting Europe’s industrial leadership, fostering employment and opening new market opportunities. AGRAL breakthrough technology is of critical importance for the whole aluminum industry, exposed to a global competition and suffering from production decline over the last years.

- Finally, workers in aluminum industry today, must change every 25 days the consumed carbon anode; this exposes them to hazardous fumes and very high heat. The inert anode with an expected life duration of one year will dramatically increase the quality conditions of work. Besides, the increase of the competitiveness of European aluminum industry is expected to keep employment in Europe and avoid redundancy plans.

Related information

Record Number: 195174 / Last updated on: 2017-02-22
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