As an increasing number of countries worldwide make major commitments to the use of hydrogen for vehicles, awareness of its benefits are coming to the fore.

To date, the biggest challenge in South Africa has been the availability of a cost-effective small hydrogen pressure electrolyser. Tshwane-based Rand Technical Services (RTS) has solved this problem with the introduction of the NEL P-60 unit.

Ian Fraser, Chairman of RTS explains that the company’s relationship with Norsk Hydro Electrolysers (later renamed NEL Hydrogen) extends back to 1996. “RTS is a great proponent of the advantages that can be derived by adopting hydrogen technology. However, until recently, the cost factor around providing a smaller unit was not feasible locally.”

“NEL Hydrogen recognised the challenges around developing a small hydrogen electrolyser that would be affordable enough for a mass market. Research into what later became the NEL P-60 commenced in earnest.”

“The P-60 is now being marketed worldwide with great success, with an advertising campaign themed ‘If the future could choose’, alluding to the future-focused benefits and capabilities of not only the P-60, but hydrogen in general. This has allowed companies like RTS to offer local markets a viable hydrogen electrolyser option,” comments Eric Dabe, NEL Hydrogen Regional Sales Director for Africa, Middle East, France and Belgium.

During his recent visit to South Africa to introduce the NEL P-60 unit to RTS’ client base, Dabe pointed out that an affordable hydrogen car could very well be a reality by 2016. “We are already seeing the growing popularity of the beta model hydrogen golf carts. We envisage that there will be a market for purely electric (battery-driven) vehicles, complemented by a market for hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles. Since electric cars can only run for shorter distances, the hydrogen vehicles could be very useful for long-distance commuting.”

“In effect, the electric cars become town cars while the hydrogen cars become extra-urban vehicles, capable of travelling distances of up to 700 km. These distances are comparable to those travelled by petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles. However, the greenhouse gas emissions are virtually eliminated with the hydrogen-powered alternative since they exhaust water rather than CO2.In addition, hydrogen vehicles are much safer to operate than conventional vehicles with a greatly reduced risk in flammability in the event of a collision,” he continues.

The NEL P-60 has an exceptionally dynamic operating range between 10% and 100% of the installed capacity, while maintaining high gas purity. The hydrogen production rate responds immediately to rapid changes in power input. Additionally, the electrolyser can be placed into stand-by mode for long periods, allowing instant resumption of hydrogen production when required.

Gary Dodd, Managing Director of RTS adds that not only is the NEL P-60 hydrogen electrolyser useful in the development of hydrogen-powered vehicles, but there is a growing market for their use in the production of artificial ‘precious’ stones. “An overseas plant is very successfully using hydrogen to produce crystal ‘rubies’ and ‘sapphires’ that are virtually indistinguishable from the original gem stones. These crystals are so pure that they are being used in the manufacture of upmarket timepieces.”

Dabe continues that during the production of hydrogen, oxygen is also produced. “Often this oxygen is vented into the atmosphere. However, it is now often utilised in the plant – often by purifying and compressing it. The pressure hydrogen electrolyser is a valuable tool in this process; and it means that companies make only a small investment in equipment in order to add value to the hydrogen process.”

“RTS is excited about the multiple uses and benefits that hydrogen provides to the market. By offering the NEL P-60 electrolyser in South Africa, we are confident that not only will local companies recognise the environmental benefits but similarly the financial advantages to be derived from its use. Together with the extensive investment in research and development into the advantages of hydrogen production by NEL Hydrogen, as well as the company’s high levels of technical support, our clients benefit from RTS’ experience and expertise in the hydrogen field,” Dodd concludes.