Proton’s going for big cell to transport chiefs

North East fuel cell manufacturer Proton could soon be sparking a transport revolution as it continues to upgrade its technology

The number Q2 bus at the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle
A Newcastle bus - electric buses may be improved by Proton's project

Proton Power Systems plc, which is registered at St Ann’s Wharf in Newcastle, has created powerful hydrogen fuel cell range extenders that can dramatically boost the distance electric buses and other vehicles can travel between charges, or provide sufficient power to allow a number of functions, such as air conditioning and windscreen wipers, to run at the same time.

A number of major bus operators are now taking note, as is Transport for London, with whom Proton has opened discussions, and chairman John Wall said he was hopeful this could be a “big thing” for the company.

“The most exciting interest in this in the UK has come from the major bus operators,” he said.

“We cannot name names as yet, but we can say that it is a very exciting development. The whole of the bus industry is focussed, first of all, on getting a clean operation and the only discharge from this is a bit of clean water.

“It’s also a renewable energy source, and, given rising prices, the bus industry wants to move away from the use of diesel and oil.”

First listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2006, Proton designs, develops and produces fuel cells and fuel cell electric hybrid systems.

Although registered in the North East, much of its product development is led by a 55-strong team based in Munich, Germany.

The company, which last year increased turnover by 5%, from �875,000 to �920,000, has invested around 60m euros over the past 15 years developing the most up-to-date applications for its cell technology.

Although adding further batteries can potentially boost the distance electric vehicles can travel, this also adds extra weight, causing problems in itself.

With Proton’s technology, however, a hydrogen fuel cell fitted to the back effectively charges the battery during travel, and can, in some instances, double the distance a vehicle can travel between charges.

Proton’s recent focus has been on increasing the power capacity of the cells, boosting it from 7kw to 20kw.

It now has a long-term aim of producing a 50kw hydrogen cell.

“That opens up a bigger market for different types of vehicles,” Wall said. “If you want to run a double decker around London, you need something much more powerful.

“We are continuously upgrading our the power capacity.

“This technology can also be applied to trucks, taxis, buses, ferries, and emergency back-up power for telecomms.”

Proton is also exploring long-term opportunities in the maritime market.

The most exciting interest in this in the UK has come from the major bus operators

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