Rural electricity supply in developing countries
In developing countries, especially in rural areas where there is no grid electricity, the introduction of fuel cells could make a big difference. Because of the ability to store energy as hydrogen or hydrocarbons, communities that are not connected to a grid could become more self sufficient in energy terms. Energy can be saved from renewable source for use at later times, although a fresh water supply is needed to create hydrogen. Many Renewables are most effective during summer months, and energy is needed most during winter months. Even hydroelectric is often combined with irrigation, meaning the maximum electricity production is in the warmest months. Hydrogen storage could offer a scale of storage unfeasible with batteries.
Even without storage small fuel cells running on bottled hydrogen or LPG could be used to provide backup power for essential equipment, replacing existing generators which are less efficient and reliable.
Many other applications of fuel cells have been extensively documented. Batteries in laptops
or mobile phones could be replaced by fuel cells, enabling instant recharging. Cars
, lorries, buses
, trains and even planes
could all use fuel cells to power electric motors. Fuel cells are already used in space applications, to power provide electrical power on satellites and shuttles
. In fact, the water produced by the fuel cells is so clean it is used as drinking water. Perhaps the most common application of fuel cells, although generally not recognised as such, is their use in hand held “breathalyzers”. Here the alcohol in the subject’s breath generates a small voltage, proportional to blood alcohol levels
Fuel Cells in Rural South Africa
Intelligent Energy has conducted a trial of fuel cells in this application, and found they were extremely reliable in harsh conditions.