Air Products South Africa has lauded the success of a public-private partnership for the launch of a groundbreaking hydrogen fuel cell project for a healthcare facility in Randburg, north west of Johannesburg.

The pilot project is a partnership between Air Products South Africa, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the City of Johannesburg, and Clean Energy Investments.

It culminated in the commissioning of a fuel cell installation at the Windsor East Clinic in Randburg, to provide back-up power during periods of ‘load-shedding’.

Power outages are widely understood to be one of the biggest challenges facing the economic development of South Africa – and the African Continent as a whole – and were pulled sharply into focus toward the end of 2014 as the country’s leading power utility Eskom re-introduced a schedule of load-shedding.

Load-shedding involves rolling – and relatively impromptu – power blackouts as the country struggles to meet its electricity demand due to a combination of ageing power infrastructure, necessary maintenance backlogs, periods of peak demand, and delays in new capacity coming on-stream. There is also a continuous growth in the number of customers requiring electricity services.

The situation is such that Eskom has taken to issuing updates on Twitter and operates a separate website for its load-shedding warnings; Eskom even announced today that it had not implemented load-shedding for the past 25 days, despite carrying out maintenance tasks in that time. The company did warn, however, that, “the system remains vulnerable, meaning that any extra load or faults in the system may necessitate the need to implement load shedding.”

Uninterrupted power supply

The project in Randburg arose out of a need to keep vital tuberculosis (TB) vaccines at an optimally low temperature, which became a problem during power failures.

Prior to the installation of the fuel cell system, staff at the clinic had to transport the vaccines in cooler boxes to other clinics with power, in order to preserve the medication during periods of load-shedding.

As leaders in hydrogen fuel cell technology, Air Products assisted Clean Energy Investments with the system, which went ‘live’ in February 2015 and has so far supplied over 70 hours of back-up power to the facility – ensuring an uninterrupted power supply for both the vaccine fridges and the air conditioner unit in the clinic’s pharmacy.

Mike Hellyar, Managing Director of Air Products South Africa, expressed his delight at the company’s involvement in the project, “It supports our vision of helping to create a better life for the communities in which we operate, and has given us an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate the benefits that hydrogen fuel cell technology can bring to the local healthcare sector.”