Israeli GenCell to mass produce fuel-cell generators as demand surges

GenCell Energy enters accord with electronics manufacturing service company Flex Ltd. that will raise output from 100 off-the-grid units a year to 5,000, CEO says

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

The GenCell A5 off-grid power solution can run 24x7 for an entire year on a single 12-ton tank of ammonia and can be easily deployed at any rural telecom base station. (Courtesy)
The GenCell A5 off-grid power solution can run 24x7 for an entire year on a single 12-ton tank of ammonia and can be easily deployed at any rural telecom base station. (Courtesy)

GenCell Energy, the Israel-based startup that makes fuel cell-based electricity generators, has entered an accord with Flex Ltd., a global provider of electronics manufacturing services, to mass produce the fuel-cell based generators to meet the “strong growing demand” of customers globally for its products.

GenCell will continue to produce the fuel cells at its facility in Petah Tikva, while Flex will integrate these into generators that will be produced at Flex’s manufacturing facility in Ofakim, Israel, and prepare them for shipping to customers globally, explained Rami Reshef, the CEO of GenCell by phone.

The mass production of GenCell’s products will enable the fuel cell startup to scale up its production from some 100 units a year to some 5,000 a year, Reshef explained, with the firm eyeing as customers electric utilities in the US and Europe. These customers need to provide energy solutions in areas that are often off the electricity grid or who need “a reliable continuous source of backup and off-grid power.” The firm’s alkaline fuel cells are used for applications where the continuous supply of electricity is vital, from telecoms to homeland security and niche automated industries.

GenCell and Flex celebrated the start of their joint operations with a ceremony in Ofakim on Wednesday.

GenCell CEO, Rami Reshef,left, and Avichai Ramot, General Manager of Flex Ofakim (Courtesy)

“Following many successful installations in varying industries such as utilities, factories and command and control centers across the globe, in order to now drive our growth forward to the next stage, we need to ramp up our production capacity fast and enjoy economy of scale; the new production line will let us realize these growth objectives and advance our mission,” said Reshef in a statement.

The Petah Tikva, Israel-based startup, founded in 2011, makes fuel cell-based solutions to create electricity and has been supplying its products to electricity providers, including in Israel, the US and Europe.

The firm’s products are based on fuel cell technology — an electro-chemical process that happens between two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, generating clean energy. Spaceships and submarines use fuel cell energy because it is emission-free.

The firm says it has developed a way to make these cells cheaper to manufacture, by replacing the platinum generally used in them with a combination of nickel and carbon and using a nanotechnology process; in addition, the firm’s technology knows how to generate hydrogen from ammonia, a common substance, easy to find globally. This makes GenCell’s generators cheaper to use than the alternative and more polluting diesel generators, according to the company.

Last month, GenCell said the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera had installed its hydrogen-based long-duration fuel-cell power generator within its cardiac catheterization unit, to ensure continuous and smooth power flow. The event marked the first time a hospital in Israel has installed a fuel-cell power unit.

Investor and entrepreneur Benny Landa (Courtesy)

“Fuel cells have been around for a decades” and have been used for aerospace applications mainly, said Benny Landa, whose Landa Ventures is a strategic investor in the firm. But GenCell’s technology has allowed to make this technology cheaper, he said, “and that is why the company is taking off.”

Landa Ventures typically takes a 25 percent to 50% stake in startups it invests in, he said, without specifying how much it has invested in GenCell.

Landa, a pioneer in the digital printing business, invests in companies “with the goal to create an industry in Israel,” he said in a phone interview from the Ofakim event. The companies he invests in must meet three main criteria: the scope of the firm’s technology must be aimed to “a very large market”; the firms must have a disruptive technology and Landa Ventures must be able to provide added value, he said, in the form of technological and marketing strategy guidance.

“All of the manufacturing will be done in Israel,” said Landa, of GenCell’s products. As the company expands, then Flex will produce the hardware at facilities also around the world.

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