History of ElectroCell
The efforts that led to the birth of ElectroCell in 1984 were initiated in the late 1960’s during a period of innovation in Sweden. Much of the preliminary engineering for the electrochemical cells was completed through a Swedish government/private industry collaboration to develop novel fuel cells and metal-air batteries. The technical success of the project was based on the design of injection molded plastic frames. The frames were able to incorporate critical requirements for electrode structure, flow distribution, superior mass transport, and cell sealing. The fabrication of injection molds incorporating the critical design features would then allow the cell frames to be mass produced at modest cost with a high degree of accuracy in a variety of polymer materials.
Concurrent with this development was a renaissance in the field of synthetic electrochemistry during the early 1970’s, partly due to the availability of robust ion exchange membranes such as DuPont Nafion®, and also due to the commercial success of the electrolytic process for the dimerization of acrylonitrile into adiponitrile by Monsanto, which became the largest electroorganic process in the world. There was a need in the scientific and research community for the tools to be able to design and develop new electrochemical processes which could positively impact the chemical, pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries.
This provided the incentive for the commitment by the Swedish National Development Company to perform the detailed engineering and testing work which resulted in the commercial introduction of the MP flow cell and the ElectroSynCell as “off the shelf” products in 1979/1980. The MP cell could be operated utilizing up to four flow compartments, providing the capability to study 3- and 4-compartment salt-splitting applications, as well as the standard undivided and membrane-divided configurations for electrolysis. Almost any electrode material could be utilized. The versatility of the cell allowed the researcher to study a variety of electrochemical processes and to focus his efforts on the electrochemical reaction, without having to worry about the effectiveness of the cell characteristics such as flow, turbulence, mass transport, material of construction and sealing issues. The larger scale ElectroSynCell provide further capabilities for piloting and small scale production. Combined, these cells have been utilized by hundreds of companies world-wide over the years for both laboratory and commercial installations.
The next step was to be able to complete the cell family by designing a full scale production module for commercialization of larger scale electrochemical processes. This culminated in the introduction of the ElectroProd Cell in 1985. The availability of the ElectroProdCell module, which is expandable up to 16 square meters of electrode area, provides the opportunity to produce chemicals in almost any desired scale simply by installing a series of identical modules to provide the required production capacity.
In 1986, the Micro Flow Cell was introduced, with one tenth the electrode area of the MP flow cell, for the purpose of providing a cell to study electrode and membrane lifetimes by operating a process over a long term, but still maintaining a minimum consumption of chemicals.
Due to interest from potential customers, ElectroCell systems for the production of on-site hypochlorite for water sanitation and purification were developed and commercialized in 1986. Several hundred of systems have been sold worldwide, and most are in commercial operation to this day.
Based on the success of these product introductions, ElectroCell AB was founded as a private company in 1984, and in 1987 was purchased in a management buyout by the four principals most involved with the commercialization of the cells (Lars Carlsson, Gusten Eklund, Ake Bjareklint, and A. C. Abrahamsson). The company, ElectroCell Systems AB, has successfully operated during this period, which culminated in a purchase by the Swedish engineering firm, Chematur Engineering AB in 1995. It was anticipated that the synergy of a full service engineering company would lead to increased opportunities for promotion of the technology, as well as providing the engineering and construction capability to assist in commercializing electrochemical processes on a large scale.
The successful operation of ElectroCell as an independent division of Chematur continued until 2004. At this time, Chematur’s core business in engineering services increased to a very high level, and a decision was made to divest ElectroCell to be able to return it to an independent ownership that could effectively focus on customer needs and continuing development of the cell technology. This resulted in the sale of ElectroCell AB to the current ownership group as ElectroCell A/S in Denmark. In this regard, the company has returned to its roots, and includes the involvement of most of the original Swedish development team, combined with the commitment of the new owners to continue the tradition of supplying high quality electrochemical equipment and technical assistance to meet the needs of customers interested in electrochemical process development and commercialization.