Fuel cell project aims to bring energy to small communities

June 5, 2015 0 By Angie Bergenson

Companies work together to provide reliable energy to rural communities

Two companies in South Africa are working together to put fuel cells to work as part of a micro-grid. A micro-grid is a small energy infrastructure that typically exists to provide electricity to rural communities with fewer than 200 households. Anglo American Platinum and Ballard Power Systems, a leading developer of hydrogen fuel cells, are developing a new product. The new product would make use methanol rather than hydrogen fuel.

Methanol fuel cells will be used for the new project

Methanol fuel cells work in much the same way that their hydrogen counterparts do. Instead of hydrogen, these energy systems consume methanol to produce electrical power. Producing methanol is somewhat less expensive and less energy intensive than producing hydrogen, making it an effective alternative fuel. Fuel cells, in general, can be an effective way for a micro-grid to provide power to those that do not have reliable access to a larger grid.

Energy availability is lacking in some parts of South Africa

South Africa - fuel cellsThe project that these two companies have launched will aim to reduce the stress associated with a lack of energy access. Many communities in South Africa have limited access to energy due to the fact that they are somewhat remote. Utilities are also struggling to accommodate the demands of consumers, which has lead to power outages in some part of the country. Fuel cells may be able to resolve the energy shortages in remote communities, but they may not be able to solve energy problems in larger communities.

South Africa aims to build its own fuel cell industry

South Africa has been working to build a domestic fuel cell industry. The country is home to the world’s largest supply of platinum, which fuel cells use to function effectively. The country’s access to platinum could help establish a very powerful fuel cell industry, which would supply energy systems to other countries that have become invested in renewable energy. It could take several years for such an industry to take form, however.