Labblog #1:from a Garage to Gatwick

Labblog #1:from a Garage to Gatwick

Let’s play a bit of word association.  When I say “2020”, what words come to mind? Covid? Lockdown? Frustration? Furlough? Another f-word? The year so far has been testing to say the least, not just from a healthcare, macro-economic, and social perspective – many people have found themselves individually challenged after being thrust from their habitual working environments, perhaps doubting their own resolve and abilities; I certainly did.

At the beginning of March, I was an engineer who spent the majority of my Bramble time in the lab. I looked forward to taking on the hands-on challenges that drove our technology forward.  As a company, we paid attention to the early warning signs of the pandemic.  We strategised, planned, and acted in order to try and keep operational and continue technical progress in the event of a lockdown.  We commissioned a make-shift lab in our CEO’s garage to further the development of our SD20 and SD500 systems.  After just four trips to the East Sussex garage, along with everyone else across the country we watched Boris announce the nationwide lockdown.

After a few weeks of summarising and reporting data, the traditional technical work dried up for me. With efforts directed towards closing our Series A funding, technical development was primarily limited to long-term efficiency and durability testing.  Weeks turned into months and technical innovation had a computational modelling focus; a novel challenge for this lab-inclined boffin, though I longed for the validation of real-world data – data that would not come soon enough.

Furloughed for almost a month, it gave me time to reflect on the technology I had been working on over the last three years and as for many others, time thinking about what my work future might look like. Thankfully, the easing of lockdown came and with it more good news with the successful closure of our funding round, enabling us to set up our own facility and scale up our manufacturing and testing capabilities.

It’s now been four weeks since we got the keys to our lab and office complex, based in Crawley– I’m not sure the landlord would recognise the place!  Our ambitious technical and commercial road map necessitates an accelerated facilities timeline and there has not been a day on site where significant changes can’t be seen.  In four short weeks we have seen some expected changes: A revamp of the air conditioning and lighting systems to modern, energy efficient standards, plumbing to accommodate our lab and office needs, and a fresh coat of paint.

More specific to our technical programs, we have arranged our lab bench tops and drawers – appropriate for all the building and testing required to develop our products and systems.  We have erected walls to build our clean room for membrane electrode assembly (MEA) manufacturing.  New kit has been delivered and installed including a hot press and swing press which will rapidly increase the rate at which we can produce MEAs for our products.

We have built testing racks which can comfortably test up to 36 portable power systems in a controlled environment when they are fully operational.  A Scribner fuel cell test station has been commissioned which enables MEA and module conditioning and testing, with a further four systems expected to be delivered next week.  Two Greenlight fuel cell test stations have been delivered for our higher power applications, which will require a few weeks before they are fully operational.

There has been jaw-dropping progress from the days of operating the technical program out of our CEO’s garage. With new, uniquely skilled technophiles regularly joining the team, it is only a short matter of time before our promising technology, first demonstrated at a small scale in a basement lab at UCL, realises its potential.

Despite the pride we feel for how far we have come, there is still an insatiable hunger to build our facility and continue developing our technology and products as quickly and safely as reasonably possible.  We are all too weary of the risk posed by coronavirus halting our progress.  The pandemic continues to provide daily challenges, but we have a motivated team that is committed to protecting each other.  Rest assured, Bramble Energy is working hard to be a guiding light to ensure that we #buildbackbetter.

Dr. Erik Engebretsen

Head of Engineering, Bramble Energy

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