Renewable energy storage solutions ‘go green’ with RTS Africa Engineering and Nel Hydrogen
2 March 2017
Ian Fraser, Managing Director of RTS Africa Engineering and Eric Dabe, Sales Director for Nel Hydrogen
Hydrogen is emerging as one of the most viable and effective storage solutions for renewable energy in many key industries, including the transportation and power sectors. Since 1996, the Tshwane-based specialised engineering company, RTS Africa Engineering, has had the sole agency to represent Nel Hydrogen, a Norwegian company which has been at the forefront of hydrogen production through water electrolysis since the 1920’s.
RTS Africa Engineering has been responsible for installing, maintaining and supporting Nel Hydrogen electrolysers since taking on the agency in the mid-1990’s.
“South Africa has one of the largest electrolysers in the world, which we regularly maintain,” explains Managing Director of RTS Africa Engineering, Ian Fraser. This is at Illovo Sugar Mill in KwaZulu-Natal, where a Nel A-485 electrolyser produces hydrogen for the manufacture of furfuryl alcohol from furfuryl – a downstream product from the sugar refining process. In the rest of Africa, RTS Africa maintains installations in Kenya, Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria.
For its part, Nel Hydrogen has been in the development of hydrogen production technology since 1927, manufacturing electrolysers for large-scale hydrogen production, as well as for hydrogen storage to store surplus renewable energy. The company has installed more than 850 electrolyser units around the world. In 2014, Nel Hydrogen acquired the Danish company, H2Logic, the world’s leading developer of hydrogen refuelling stations.
“As pressure on the countries of the world increases to lower carbon emissions, the need for efficient and effective renewable energy is increasing,” says Sales Director for Nel Hydrogen, Eric Dabe.
“However currently, in the renewable energy sector, the supply of energy fluctuates as it is dependent on the sun and wind,” Dabe continues. Fluctuations make connecting renewables to the AC grid challenging. In addition, the dynamic nature of renewable energy dictates that installed capacity is greater than demand. This means that considerable energy surpluses are produced at certain times, which cannot be absorbed by the main grid.
“In this case, the only solution at present is to discard significant amounts of valuable ‘green’ energy,” he adds.
Batteries as a means of energy storage are costly and have limited capacity; and disposal of spent batteries is also an environmental challenge. However, with hydrogen technology, excess power from renewable sources can be fed to electrolysers to generate hydrogen, which can be stored and then used to create energy at convenient times. This so-called ‘green’ hydrogen enhances the business case for renewable energy sources, as the electricity it produces maximises the value of renewable energy systems.
Already, over the past three to four years, the application of hydrogen as a means of energy storage – or ‘power-to-gas’ as it is known – has been successfully demonstrated in Germany with its advanced renewable energy programme. It is estimated that, by 2050, renewables will provide 80% of that country’s energy.
Existing natural gas networks could serve as a substantial green hydrogen energy storage solution. “Up to 5% hydrogen can be bled into and stored in natural gas piped networks,” continues Dabe, explaining that this contributes to the decarbonisation of the natural gas grid.
“The calorific value of the resulting gas mix is greater. Less gas can be used to achieve the same result while the net energy benefit is greater than 5%.
Blending hydrogen with natural gas also lowers emissions, as when hydrogen is burned, the emissions are pure water,” he explains.
The motor vehicle manufacturing and transportation sectors are others where hydrogen technology is receiving heightened attention. With hydrogen-powered vehicles such as the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai ix35, the future success of fuel cell hybrid electric vehicles (FCHVE) looks to be assured. Offering the same convenience as their fossil fuel counterparts, the modern hydrogen fuelling station can fill a car in three minutes, to give a range of some 600km.
In February this year, Nel Hydrogen Fueling, a division of Nel Hydrogen, announced that it had developed and launched a new multipurpose hydrogen fuelling station. Connected to a single fuelling module, it can serve at least three hydrogen dispensers.
“It is this type of hydrogen innovation that we hope to see soon in South Africa. The possibilities for energy-friendly buses and taxis are definitely viable in the future,” says Fraser.
Nel Hydrogen has invested decades of research and development in electrolyser technology, which is now a practical, mature alternative to fossil fuel energy for numerous different sectors. “RTS Africa Engineering, through its long association with Nel, is well qualified not only to offer the latest in hydrogen technology; but also to offer expert advice, service and support to customers both locally and throughout Africa,” he concludes.