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February 14, 2023 | Tom Ballard

FC Renew making progress on “providing an oil change for hydrogen fuel cells”

Philip Stuckey's interest in this technology started during his freshman year in college. Well into the second year of "Innovation Crossroads," he's working to scale it.

Philip Stuckey has an easy-to-remember tagline for FC Renew, the start-up he launched in 2021 based on years of interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology that started during his freshman year in college.

“We provide an oil change for your hydrogen fuel cells,” Stuckey regularly says during presentations as a member of Cohort 5 of the “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The former Patent Examiner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office relocated from Washington, DC to Oak Ridge to participate in the program.

Stuckey says that fuel cells in commercially available passenger vehicles have a durability of around 5,000 hours which equates to about 150,000 miles on the road. Right now, the entire industry is focused on heavy-duty applications such as trucks and ships that transport goods around the county. Fuel cells need advancements that can keep these trucks on the road for 30,000 hours or 1.2 million miles.

What is FC Renew’s approach? The start-up is developing a chemical process that will enable lower-cost, long-life hydrogen fuel cells that will, in turn, help accelerate the electrification of essential hardware and systems for defense and commercial use.

Now, more than three-fourths of the way through the two-year IC Fellowship, Stuckey says that he has “proven the fundamental feasibilities, and although we’re still in R&D, we are positioning to scale the technology.” FC Renew was also announced recently as a member of the second cohort of the “Spark Incubator Program,” a strategic initiative within the Spark Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee (UT) Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

A lot has changed in and around hydrogen fuel cell technology since Stuckey’s interest began 20 years ago as a first-year student at North Carolina State University. In this October 2021 article written by former PYA colleague Kailyn Lamb, he talked about taking entrepreneurial classes and deciding to make an impact on environmental issues with his own company. His passion for the topic drove Stuckey all the way to Iceland, where he did a study abroad to see a hydrogen fueling station.

Describing that experience as eye-opening, the scientist and entrepreneur says the tried “to get a company off the ground 10 years ago, but the timing wasn’t right for hydrogen or fuel cells.

“Commercialization of hydrogen fuel cells was overpromised from the early 2000s and following into the economic recession from 2008 to 2015,” he says. “The timing today is exponentially better for a lot of reasons” that range from the emphasis on sustainable transportation to overall clean technologies, climate change, hydrogen generation, and protecting the environment.

“Hydrogen fuel cells are the best candidate to replace fossil fuels for transportation,” Stuckey says. “For renewable technology, we are the only ones taking this approach, so we are at the forefront.”

Going forward, he is excited about FC Renew’s prospects from several perspectives. One is California, frequently a bell weather for technology breakthroughs. More than 20,000 fuel cell vehicles are sold there each year. Another is a recent $8 billion initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy. The federal agency received concept papers for the program to create Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (H2Hubs) that were funded under the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” The goal of the program is to catalyze investment in the development of H2Hubs that demonstrate the production, processing, delivery, storage, and end-use of clean hydrogen.

Stuckey says FC Renew is well-positioned for what is coming.

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