MechChem Africa

Due to climate change, the era of fossil-fuelled transportation is drawing to a close. While there are sound cases to be made for the adoption of transportation alternatives such as battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) hold the better potential for diminished environmental harm in the longer term. 

Managing director of RTS Africa Engi­neering, Ian Fraser, explains that both battery- and hydrogen-powered cars are driven by electric motors. “So the question is does the electricity come from clean or contaminating resources, renewable energy or coal-burning power stations?” he asks.

NEL nikola hydrogen FCV fuel cell vehiclesAn FCV converts hydrogen – which has been generated either by electrolysis or steam reforming – into electrical energy. If renewable electrical energy is used for electrolysis, there are no harmful emissions at all. “As critics of EVs explain, while the EV does not itself burn fossil fuel, at present they are reliant on power sourced from coal-burning power stations, which, in the long run, can make hydrogen cars a cleaner option,” Fraser adds.

Refuelling both FCVs and EVs has been an issue globally and certainly here in South Africa. “To set up the charging system for a battery-powered car requires a simple charger – albeit a comparatively large one – whereas hydrogen filling stations require hydrogen at refuelling station sites by electrolysis and the storage and the dispensing of hydrogen through pumps that closely resemble current petrol pumps,” he explains.

An alternative possibility is to deliver it in tankers to filling stations. “However, bulk transport would be more expensive and less environmentally friendly, and the first prize would be to solve the grid problem and generate hydrogen at the dispensing point,” he adds.

An exciting move in this direction has come from one of RTS Africa’s most long-standing international principals, Nel Hydrogen – a dedicated hydrogen company delivering solutions to produce, store and distribute hydrogen from renewable energy.

Nel Hydrogen recently received an order from the Nikola Motor Company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, for two demonstration-refuelling stations to provide hydrogen to Nikola’s prototype hydrogen vehicles in the USA. “This order is the first part of an initiative aiming to develop low-cost renewable hydrogen production and fuelling sites, for the potential development of 16 large-scale sites across the US, each with a capacity of up to 32 t/day of hydrogen,” Fraser explains.

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