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4 December 2018
Five Ways UWC Is Providing A Cleaner, Greener Future (With Hydrogen Power)

(Published - 4 December 2018)

Tired of being left in the dark when it comes to energy matters (literally, thanks to loadshedding)? Not happy with the way coal power pollutes the environment and causes climate change? Luckily, hydrogen power can change all that - as global and local stakeholders are discussing at the 30th Steering Committee Meeting of the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy in Pretoria (hosted by DST from 4 to 7 December 2018).

What makes hydrogen fuel cell technology so great? Well, it’s reliable, flexible, efficient, noiseless (because there aren’t many moving parts involved)...and it’s very environmentally-friendly - when hydrogen is burned, the waste product isn’t carbon dioxide, but good clean water.

And nobody knows hydrogen fuel cell technology like the Hydrogen Systems Centre of Competence South Africa (HySA Systems, for short) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

“South Africa is facing an energy crisis, and we need to look at ways of providing sustainable energy for a growing population and a growing economy,” says HySA’s Acting Director, Dr Sivakumar Pasupathi. “At the same time, we need to look at the global picture and consider the impacts of climate change - we need to think green. The HySA Programme provides a way for us to navigate towards a hydrogen and fuel cell infrastructure, one that can change our lives for the better”

Here are just a few of the ways HySA is putting hydrogen fuel cell technology to good use...

1. Carting Around Campus: HySA’s fleet of HFCT-powered golf carts (the first of their kind in SA) has been put to good use, allowing campus security and other staff (and lucky students) to zip around campus with ease (and without pollution, or noise). They’re not just cool - they’re useful, too...and those power and emissions savings add up quick (one reason UWC has thrice been named Africa’s Greenest Campus).
2. Heavy (Fork)Lifting: UWC’s Hydrogen Systems South Africa (HySA), in partnership with Implats and DST, unveiled South Africa’s first prototype hydrogen fuel cell forklift and refuelling station. The forklift has lower noise levels, facilitates longer operational times between refuelling, and enables swifter refuelling times (only seven minutes), ensuring increased productivity. Implats plans to use hydrogen fuel cell technology as its main source of energy for material handling and underground mining equipment.
3. Taking To The Skies: Air travel is a big deal - with global demand for air transport doubling every 15 years, nearly 30,000 new large aircraft will be needed in the next twenty years. But jet fuel is expensive and produces a lot of CO2. HySA Systems, the National Aerospace Centre and Airbus are looking to the future, conducting research into using hydrogen fuel cells to replace the small gas turbines called Auxiliary Power Units, which are used for generating on-board electrical power and heat while the aircraft is on the ground.
4. Reserve Power (Pun Intended): UWC’s Nature Reserve houses some very unique flora and fauna (as well as researchers and folks looking to relax for a bit). And HySA’s HFC Power Generator provides continuous power to the UWC Nature Reserve building, and is the first such unit developed almost entirely in South Africa. The unit uses hydrogen to generate electrical power, producing environmentally-friendly energy to a rather unique environment - without disturbing the animals, since it’s noiseless.
5. You Name It, We’ve Got It: When you have a clean power source that’s compact, efficient and powerful, you find as many ways to make it useful as you can. A few other hydrogen fuel cell tech breakthroughs from HySA: South Africa’s first hydrogen-powered tricycle, first fuel cell backup power systems prototype for the telecommunications market, and a range of groundbreaking national and international partnerships and workshops...and that’s just for starters.

Want to know more about hydrogen fuel cell technology, and how HySA is using it to power energy transformation in South Africa and beyond? Head over to HySA Systems and check it out for yourself.

Bonus: A Few Fun Facts You May Not Know About Hydrogen:

  • It’s the most abundant element in the universe (90% of all atoms are hydrogen atoms), but it’s actually rarely found in nature - because it tends to form compounds with other elements (like joining with oxygen to form water, for example)
  • It’s the lightest gas (and indeed element) of them all  
  • It has no smell, colour or taste
  • It’s a gas at normal temperatures and pressures, but condenses to a liquid at a comfy temperature of -253oC, and becomes solid at -260oC

Oh, and the most important fact: it’s really, really flammable. So leave the hydrogen power production to the experts, okay?