Fuel Cells Bulletin as a Digital Edition

The Fuel Cells Bulletin is now published as a Digital Edition,
and no longer in print. As an electronic-only newsletter, FCB will be
available to subscribers immediately on publication, in full color
throughout, with direct hyperlinks and easier searchability.

Subscribers will still have access to an online archive, and each subscription has access for up to five users.

South Africa wants to join the fuel cell party

South Africa is starting to attract more attention as its fuel cell activities gather momentum. Recently we've seen several news items on South African developments, as the continent's leading industrial nation wakes up to its potentially leading role in the future of fuel cells and hydrogen energy.

The key to South Africa's potential in the fuel cell sector is platinum, as it has three-quarters of the world's known platinum reserves. But rather than just extracting the platinum and allowing others to exploit its use in fuel cell catalysts, the SA minister of science and technology wants the country to capture 25% of the global market for the production of platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts for hydrogen and fuel cell applications.

To this end, the government's Department of Science and Technology (DST) has developed a National Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technologies Research, Development and Innovation Strategy. This 15-year program called Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) was launched in late 2008.

HySA has established three research institutes to push this forward, focused on systems integration, catalyst development, and hydrogen infrastructure.

The UWC Competence Centre on Hydrogen Technology Validation and Systems Integration (HySA Systems), under director Dr Oystein Ulleberg, is located at the University of the Western Cape, near Cape Town.

The Catalysis Centre of Competence (under director Professor Jack Fletcher) is co-hosted by the national mineral research organization Mintek and the University of Cape Town.

And the Hydrogen Infrastructure Centre of Competence (under director Dr Dmitri Bessarabov) is co-hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and North-West University at Potchefstroom, near Johannesburg.

Industry is also playing its part in South Africa's move up the fuel cell food chain. Anglo Platinum the world's leading primary producer of PGMs has hooked up with the DST and US-based Altergy Systems to manufacture hydrogen PEM fuel cell products in South Africa, for the sub-Saharan region.

And African Oxygen Ltd (Afrox) is working with UK-based Diverse Energy to bring affordable cell phone telecoms to rural Africa, utilizing PEM fuel cells with Diverse Energy's ammonia cracker integrated system.

Our October issue also contains a second feature by Vicki P. McConnell on powering forklifts and other materials handling vehicles with fuel cells, with the focus this time on the economic case. These excellent features represent a unique, comprehensive overview of the promising early market for fuel cells in materials handling applications.

Fuel cells in forklifts extend commercial reach

Materials handling is shaping up as a very promising early adopter market for fuel cell technology, and for a good number of end-users the financial, operational, and environmental benefits are already clear to see.

In pretty much every issue we carry several news items on fuel cell powered forklifts and other materials handling vehicles, and this provides a good indication of the early action in this potentially massive market for compact fuel cell systems.

As Vicki McConnell reports in this months feature article on fuel cells in forklifts, the Material Handling Industry of America estimates the overall materials handling equipment and systems market to be worth US$156 billion per annum, with lift trucks alone worth $10 billion.

Plug Power, which has by far the biggest market share of the fuel cell players at this early stage, estimates there are 1.7 million trucks in use in North America.

The US and Canada are currently leading the way in early demonstrations, with installations ranging from single vehicles to the entire fleet of 220 lift trucks at Central Grocers distribution center in Joliet, Illinois, which use Plug Power systems.

But companies such as Hydrogenics, Nuvera and Proton Motor have supplied quite a few fuel cell units for demonstrations and trials in Europe.

We think the two-part table of fuel cell installations worldwide (on pages 1415) is the most comprehensive such chart to be published anywhere so far.

Plug Power with its stack supplier Ballard Power Systems is currently so dominant that its installations take a full page, and this seems likely to continue for some time in view of their recently extended supply deal [FCB, August 2010].

Almost all of the installations so far are for PEM fuel cell units running on hydrogen, but Oorja Protonics is bucking this trend with its direct methanol fuel cell technology.

Oorjas approach also differs in that its DMFCs dont directly power materials handling vehicles, but instead continuously recharge their batteries. This means that a less powerful unit can be used, currently rated at 1.5 or 4.5 kW. And methanol requires a more straightforward fueling infrastructure than compressed hydrogen.

Vicki dug up so much data while researching her excellent article that, even with eight pages allocated in this issue, we need to cover activities outside North America and the economics case in a second feature, which will be published in the October issue.

Steve Barrett Editor

Social networking

Social networking provides a variety of ways for both experts and newbies to find out more about fuel cells and hydrogen energy, and is facilitating the increasing interest in and applications of these technologies.

While Facebook provides a channel for companies or organizations (so far, just a few in the fuel cells arena) to highlight their activities, it is probably the more newsy networking media that offer the most useful insight into how fuel cells and hydrogen energy are perceived among the interested masses.

Twitter has established a reputation as a medium for very fast, global dissemination of news and information, and this holds for fuel cells just as much as breaking headline news or showbiz gossip. FCB has a Twitter account (FCBulletin), which I use to provide brief headlines and links to topical news items that are posted on (in the section on Energy storage including fuel cells). Sometimes these include hashtags such as #fuelcells, #fuelcell, or #hydrogen, which are labels included in the tweet that can help readers trawling the Twitterverse to pick out tweets of particular fuel cell interest. It must be said that being strictly limited to 140 characters certainly focuses the mind on what you want to convey

And there is certainly plenty of interest in fuel cells and hydrogen energy, going way beyond those with a professional interest in research & development and commercialization. As well as a multitude of normal people posting items on news and articles they have found, there are also posts from the likes of the California Fuel Cell Partnership and Fuel Cell Today. The latest news from the BC Hydrogen Highway in Vancouver comes via PoweringNow, which was tweeting fit to burst about fuel cell vehicles, displays and outreach activities during the 2010 Winter Olympics a couple of months back.

You may be aware that my LinkedIn page also has regular news updates, along the same lines as my Twitter updates. LinkedIn is a more business-like medium, and allows you to create a network that can be kept up to date with what you are working on, or want to tell people about. It also hosts groups of like-minded professionals, such as the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Network (1400 members) and the Fuel Cell Technology group (220 members), which offer a forum for discussions or indeed business connections to be made.

Energy storage

Energy storage is often linked with fuel cells when it comes to real-world applications. This is because hydrogen is seen as one of the ways in which some of the main forms of generating electric power from renewable energy sources can be made more useful for continuous power.


The intermittent nature of wind or solar photovoltaic energy sources is a significant problem, but using any spare power generation capacity to produce hydrogen via electrolysis of water is a relatively straightforward process. (Of course, these extra steps between the initial power generation and its ultimate use chisel away at the end-to-end efficiency, but Ill leave that argument to others.)


There are some interesting projects that combine renewable energy sources with electrolyzers and hydrogen fuel cells, including the Hydrogen Mini Grid System recently installed at the Environmental Energy Technology Centre in Yorkshire, UK, and the H2seed project at the Hebridean Hydrogen Park in the Western Isles of Scotland.


Batteries and, to a lesser extent, other electrochemical devices such as ultracapacitors are another key energy storage technology that is often linked with fuel cells, in both mobile and stationary applications.


Vehicles in particular see the benefit of hybridizing power sources in this way, to help overcome limitations such startup time or from subzero temperatures. Effectively all fuel cell vehicles are hybrid to some extent, as there will always be a battery or ultracapacitor somewhere in the system the only real question is to how great a degree the system depends on the battery.


Another advantage of the hybrid approach in vehicles is that it can allow the use of smaller fuel cell systems, which has advantages in terms of cost, system size and so on. The recently unveiled Riversimple open source fuel cell car employs just a 6 kW PEM fuel cell, combined with an ultracapacitor.


And the Microcab vehicles used on the University of Birmingham campus in the UK use 3 kW PEM fuel cells to keep the battery-powered propulsion system charged up, rather than seeing the batteries discharge and then need a long recharging session.


One of the reasons why this comes to mind is that I am also now responsible for posting content on our Renewable Energy Focus website, in the section on Energy storage including fuel cells. I will be posting a lot more content there in future, starting with news items but also adding feature articles and other types of information.


Check it out for yourselves