Vodafone has collaborated with GenCell Energy, a renewable power technology company, and Simtel, a solar technology provider, to test a zero-emission power solution at a rural mobile site in Romania.
GenCell and Simtel deployed a GenCell FOX™ low temperature alkaline fuel cell at the site that generates power from liquid ammonia – one of the most effective, energy-dense and carbon-free hydrogen carriers – with only water, nitrogen and heat as its by-products. Until recently, most fuel cells were intolerant of ammonia. But recent innovations in alkaline fuel cell technology have developed a new type of fuel cell, such as the FOX, opening up potential for energy generation from liquid ammonia. Gencell’s technology is designed for placement in remote locations distanced from urban areas, and to supply continuous power in harsh environments and weather conditions with minimal human intervention or maintenance.
Built-in leak sensors and strict safety measures
Liquid ammonia is less flammable than gasoline, propane, hydrogen or natural gas and emits a strong odour that makes leaks rapidly detectable. When handled in accordance with regulations and proper equipment, liquid ammonia achieves excellent safety records. Composed of nitrogen and hydrogen, ammonia is carbon-free, and thanks to the broad availability of existing infrastructure, growing market demand and technological developments, ammonia is an increasingly cost-effective green energy vector.
GenCell’s equipment incorporates built-in sensors that will shut down fuel cell operation immediately on detection of any leaks.
Initial results from the field test, which lasted for six weeks, indicate that the system operated reliably, providing required power output through the test period. Power generation happened autonomously and required minimal intervention from GenCell engineers on site.
Testing solutions for renewable self-powered mobile sites
Vodafone has been working with a variety of organisations and suppliers to develop and test solar wind, fuel cell and mico-turbine technologies that could generate renewable power for a mobile site on location.
While solar and wind combined with batteries can supply a significant share of power on individual sites, it is often not technically and economically feasible to provide guaranteed power all year round. Space constraints and seasonal variations mean that a backup power source is required that’s always available. This is typically either the electricity grid or a generator on site. Fuel cells or combustion engines using zero carbon fuels meet these requirements and have the potential to replace backup generators often powered by diesel.
We have already successfully deployed and trialled fuel cells using methanol and hydrogen as fuel. However, in comparison to hydrogen, liquid ammonia has a higher energy density, and is easier to transport and store. It could enable a full year’s fuel supply to be stored on site, reducing the number of site visits to remote locations. And unlike methanol, liquid ammonia is carbon-free – so offers a fuel that can be used without any release of carbon-dioxide. Liquid ammonia is therefore a potentially feasible and efficient option, especially for off-grid sites which need fuel cells that can run for many hours.
While ammonia and hydrogen don’t emit CO2 at the point of use, producing ammonia does currently rely on fossil fuels, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions further up the fuel supply chain. However, hydrogen and ammonia can be produced from renewable sources, making them ‘green’. As renewable production technologies advance, green ammonia and green hydrogen will become more widely available. By developing the hydrogen and ammonia fuel cell technology for our sites now, we’re making them ready for a future powered by fuels from renewable sources. This is comparable to the transition to battery electric vehicles, which emit zero emissions themselves, but rely on renewable power to charge them to make chain fully sustainable.