One of RTS Africa’s most long-standing international principals, Nel Hydrogen – a dedicated hydrogen (H2) company delivering solutions to produce, store and distribute H2 from renewable energy, has received an order from Nikola Motor Company for two demonstration refuelling stations to provide H2 to Nikola’s fleet of prototype H2 vehicles.

Ian Fraser, Managing Director of RTS Africa Engineering

Ian Fraser, Managing Director of RTS Africa Engineering

Managing Director of RTS Africa Engineering, Ian Fraser, explains, “This order is the first part of an initiative aiming at developing low-cost renewable H2 production and fuelling sites, for the potential development of 16 large-scale sites with a capacity up to 32 tonnes of H2 a day.”

The initial two demonstration stations will each provide one tonne of H2 to Nikola Motor’s prototype trucks and serve as design verification for Nel’s mega-scale concept. This solution will be jointly developed and scaled into the world’s most efficient network of low-cost H2 production and fuelling sites.

For the mega-stations, Nel will incorporate its clustering concept, where eight Nel A-485 electrolysers are integrated into one unit, to achieve lower capex levels. Nikola has an initial target to build 16 of the mega-scale H2 stations between 2019 and 2021, with a minimum of eight units of the Nel A-485 electrolyser per site. The solution is scalable to a maximum of 32 units of the Nel A-485 electrolyser per site, equalling a production capacity of up to 32 tonnes of H2 per day. The delivery of the demonstration stations is intended to start in the second half of 2018.

The greater availability of H2 fuelling stations is key to unlocking the potential of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). A FCV has a range of some 600 km and once at its destination refuelling takes a minute or two. Electric vehicles (EVs) do not have the same range and to recharge them properly takes a couple of hours, Fraser explains.

“With very rapid charging, an EV can be recharged in as little as 15 minutes, but that is not good for the batteries,” he adds.

“I think it is optimistic to think that battery technology can be improved much further by making lighter and more efficient energy storage solutions,” he continues.

Fraser points out that in South Africa, H2 transportation technology would be very useful in applications such as servicing the taxi industry and in large opencast mines, where a number of haul trucks operate in a limited radius. A single Nel filling station could, for example, serve the fuel needs of an entire fleet. With these applications, it would not be necessary to set up a massively dispersed suburban and urban filling station network.

“These two applications alone could serve as a stepping stone to the realisation of the value of H2 technology in transportation and also serve to usher in a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly future,” Fraser concludes.