Demonstration of Fuel cell based integrated generator systems to power off-grid cell phone towers, using ammonia fuel
Key Objectives of the project
TOWERPOWER is based upon the development of an innovative low-cost, fuel cell based power generator system (called a PowerCubeTM), incorporating 10 years of development experience, together with the relevant refueling capability (using ammonia as the primary fuel) to cost-effectively replace diesel generators to power mobile telecommunications towers (cell-phone towers) in developing countries and regions without a reliable electrical grid.
The key objectives of the project are to demonstrate:
- Systems with sufficient power generation capacity from completely integrated generator systems
- Capability of systems to integrate into existing power infrastructure requirements on the cell phone tower stations
- Required efficiencies, cost and lifetimes vs. application targets
- Advantages over incumbent technologies
- Proof of suitable supply chain and field support concept for complete systems.
- Feedback to RD&D activities on required mitigations
- Compliance with Regulatory Codes and Standards
It is recognised some improvements need to be made from the current PowerCube design powering customer equipment in Africa, namely: the sales potential is being limited due to the 1.2Kw output from the current system and a higher output option is required to open further sales potential. Also, Diverse Energy understands the need to design and manufacture a commercially viable product that is financially attractive to customers for capital, operational and fuelling costs (CVP).
- Capital costs need to compete with competition technology
- Service intervals and service costs need to be below competition technology
- Fuel costs need to be competitive with competition technology
Total costs are more competitive than alternative technology:
To achieve the CVP, it has been necessary to engineer down the capital costs of the PowerCube. The nature of the technology means some exotic materials are used making costly Bill of Materials. The solution was to remove the fuel from within the PowerCube allowing some of the safety sensors and circuitry to be simplified or removed entirely. The new design uses commodity components rather than in-house manufactured sub-assemblies providing proven technology and supplier warranty.
The components used within the PowerCube are mostly thermal and electrical with only a small number of pumps. The design using mostly non-moving components allows longer time intervals between services when compared with competing technology such as diesel.
To minimise the power required for converting the ammonia supply into the cracker in a vaporised state. To maximise the customer power available, the PowerCube power requirements need to be kept to a minimum.
The technical challenges will largely be managed by Diverse Energy with assistance from outside sources, specialising in their own sphere of technical expertise.
From the previous NH34PWR grant program, Diverse Energy have manufactured an initial batch of 10 (ten) PowerCubes generating maximum power available to the customer of 1.2kW. Five of these units are powering customer sites in Namibia and the remaining PowerCubes are based in Slinfold for engineering test applications.
Diverse use an APG (alternative power generation) system to heat ammonia sufficiently to separate the gases in hydrogen and other gases. The hydrogen is provided to PEM fuel Cells to generate electrical power to the customer. The APG system we have designed is a unique compact unit producing hydrogen-on-demand for continuous use.
The design of the next generation PowerCube is to use commercially available components and sub-assemblies with proven technology to ensure a more robust customer unit. The design will be aided by Diverse Energy using consultancies where appropriate.
In parallel to the customer trials, the supply chain and key supplier partnerships are being established to accommodate the expected volume customer orders forthcoming from successful completion of the three (3) month trials.
Expected socio and economic impact
The product will benefit local communities since it delivers clean power for telephone communication, without diesel exhaust and engine noise. The provision of cell phone communication has been shown to significantly enhance GDP and economic growth in under-developed countries and this is especially marked in rural and areas exhibiting extreme poverty (income less than $1 per day). MTN (South Africa) a telecommunications operator has estimated that a 10% penetration of mobile phone use increases GDP growth by 1.2% and other studies commissioned by Ericsson and based on India stated that is a further compounding of poverty alleviation via the creation and increased efficiency of small business which arises when mobile phone penetration exceeds 35% of a region.
Race (and occasionally caste) remains an issue in developing countries and specifically in South Africa which has Black Economic Empowerment regulations, many of which are being considered for adoption in other African countries. By providing small businesses (often run by disadvantaged ethnic groups) with telephone communication for the first time (including various cell phone internet services (e.g. money transfer, payment services and other banking and knowledge services (prices in the market)), then these businesses can more easily grow helping to increase the economy, lift the country out of poverty and reduce both the poverty and racial income divide.