Hydrogen fuel cells are here to stay says Clive Coker of the New Engineering Foundation, which is running classes on this particular form of clean energy.
Classes take place on the "Ross Barlow", providing a practical demonstration of clean energy hydrogen cells. While the classes are originally designed for college lecturers, it seems there may soon be classes for marine technicians as some further education providers, such as Birmingham University, are considering making the courses available to a wider section of the industry.
Although the time scale to get the new technology "on board" would seem to put it some way into the future, Mr Coker says, "Part of the Foundation"s job is to help colleges look forward and prepare themselves because the time lag between new technology and getting qualified people available for industry is around four years. The colleges need to start looking well in advance and not just responding after the technology has become established." He points out by way of example that it has been an industry loss that only recently have many colleges included the fitting of solar voltaic cells in their technician courses.
The present classes concentrate on a generic marine application. Renewable electricity can be stored as hydrogen by splitting water using electrolysis. The groups look at combining a metal hydride solid state hydrogen store, a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, a lead acid battery stack, and an NdFeB permanent magnet electric motor.
These classes have a very hands on approach since they make use of the Protium project installation on the Ross Barlow, a standard British Waterways maintenance boat converted to fuel cell propulsion.
On this particular boat, the hydrogen is stored on board in a metal hydride system (weighing 130kgs) which provides an effective means of storing large amounts of hydrogen at room temperature and at a modest pressure (around 10 bar). The hydrogen is released from the hydride by decreasing the pressure, providing the fuel cell with an ultra-pure source of fuel.
The present courses start with an introduction to the concepts of proton exchange membrane fuel cells with a demonstration using an NdFeB permanent magnet electric motor, and a review of the metal hydride solid state hydrogen store technique. This links with a talk on the advantages and challenges of this form of propulsion.
Then there is the "hands on" part, a journey on the Ross Barlow, together with a discussion of the actual power installation driving the barge, which leads into a workshop on the technology and how it has been installed on the barge. To conclude, there is a look at the future implications for transportation systems.
Mr Coker adds that the courses are open to interested parties, "all of which helps hydrogen cell technology gain public awareness."