When it comes to the bulk manufacturing of hydrogen, there are adequate, cost-effective solutions for generating high-volume hydrogen locally available.  However, for the supply and storage of hydrogen, small-to-medium users have relied, for the most part, on gas in cylinders. This is because a convenient and consistent means of generating high-purity hydrogen at smaller volumes on site has previously not been readily available, according to Ian Fraser, Managing Director of RTS Africa Engineering.

RTS Africa introduces Nel PEM electrolysers to the local market

RTS Africa, in collaboration with its long-term principal Nel Hydrogen, has introduced Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysers as a solution to this challenge. “A constraint with conventional alkaline electrolysers is that they only become economical when producing larger volumes of hydrogen - in excess of some 60 to 100 normal cubic metres. It is possible to make smaller alkaline electrolysers but, at that scale, they are not economical,” Fraser explains.

However, as PEM electrolysers employ a different technology to produce hydrogen, these units can be far more compact. For example, many small PEM electrolysers can be found serving in laboratories in the form of a bench-top supply of small-scale on-site hydrogen. Fraser says that these units would typically be supplying quantities of a couple of cubic centimetres, but PEM technology can also be used for much higher capacity electrolysers.

At the core of a PEM electrolyser is a proton exchange membrane. The conventional alkaline electrolysis process uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. In a PEM electrolyser, water reacts at the anode to form oxygen and positively-charged hydrogen ions (protons). The electrons flow through an external circuit and the hydrogen ions selectively move across the PEM to the cathode. At the cathode, hydrogen ions combine with electrons from the external circuit to form hydrogen gas.

When using clean energy, PEM electrolysers are completely environmentally-friendly, as they use only electricity and demineralised water in the process. The fact that it is possible to have a smaller volume electrolyser, which does not need an alkaline electrolyte is in certain instances also an advantage, Fraser says.

“Industry applications for a Nel Proton PEM Electrolyser are numerous. They have application in the chemical industry: for example, in plants making furfural alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to name just two products. They are also be used to supply hydrogen to power stations and annealing plants. The smaller units also have wide application in research institutions and universities where laboratories might need a reliable on-demand supply of ultra-high-purity hydrogen,” he says.

“At RTS Africa, we are very excited to partner with our principal Nel Hydrogen in marketing this versatile new product to southern African industry. Nel Proton PEM Electrolysers make a valuable contribution to the range of electrolyser options available to our clients, and very innovatively fill what has long been a gap in the local hydrogen generation market.”


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