There is growing interest internationally in the use of hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs) as an alternative source of energy. Besides their potential for powering homes and buildings, hydrogen fuel cells can be used in transportation applications to power forklifts, cargo trucks, delivery vans, and passenger vehicles.
Their benefits include higher efficiency when compared to diesel, environmental friendliness (zero exhaust emissions), noise-free mobility, and lower maintenance (no oil changes).
HFC technologies topped the agenda at the 2019 Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program Annual Merit Review and Peer Evaluation Meeting held in Virginia last spring. Convened annually by the US Department of Energy (DOE), the meeting reviews HFC projects funded by DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program.
Among the participants at this year’s meeting were Phil Mjwara, the Director-General of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), and the DST’s Chief Director for Hydrogen and Energy, Rebecca Maserumule.
The DST, through its Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) program, has made significant progress with local applications of HFC technology. In 2016, in partnership with Impala Refining Services and the University of the Western Cape, the DST/HySA unveiled a prototype hydrogen fuel cell forklift and refueling station in Springs, Gauteng.
The DST and HySA are also piloting a number of other prototypes and demonstrators, including a standby HFC power plant at Poelano High School in South Africa.
Keith Schmid, Chief Operating Officer of US company Plug Power, reported at the meeting that customer acceptance of HFCs was increasing. “We have experienced significant advances in commercial fleet vehicle applications,” he said.
From South Africa, Mjwara and Maserumule met with representatives of Plug Power on the sidelines of the meeting. According to Mjwara, the DST is exploring the possibility of partnering with Plug Power, which works in various areas of HFC application. Plug Power designs and manufactures HFC systems that replace conventional batteries in equipment and vehicles powered by electricity.
According to the DST, the company has had considerable success in the deployment of hydrogen refueling stations aimed at accelerating the adoption of HFC solutions.