World first helps seamen see light

A PARTNERSHIP of North-East expertise has scored a world first by designing a fuel cell to power an historic lighthouse.

A PARTNERSHIP of North-East expertise has scored a world first by designing a fuel cell to power an historic lighthouse.

The South Gare lighthouse, built in 1884 at the mouth of the River Tees, is vital to the operation of Teesport, one of the busiest ports in the UK with 6,000 ship arrivals each year and handling 50 million tonnes of cargo, and is located at an exposed location.

But now the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), based at Wilton on Teesside, has worked with some of the world’s top fuel cell companies to give it a reliable, sustainable source of power.

The ground-breaking project is intended as another demonstration that fuel cell technology is developing at a rapid pace and will soon be ready for wider use. It is especially suited to remote applications and locations.

CPI has worked with PD Ports, which runs Teesport, marine engineering company Pelangi in Norfolk, which maintains the lighthouse and its systems, German company Schunk, which manufactures the fuel cell stack, and US business Air Products – the world’s number one producer of hydrogen and a market leader in hydrogen energy applications. The hydrogen fuel cell has been powering the South Gare light, which can be seen from 25 miles out to sea, for several months now and is housed in a cabinet attached to the lighthouse.

Nigel Perry, chief executive of CPI, said: “The use of the fuel cell at South Gare is a big step forward as we have had to develop a special unit to withstand this demanding location. Fuel cells have the potential to be an important component of our future energy supply along with the likes of tidal/wave, wind and solar powers, nuclear and some fossil fuel, though we know these have a finite lifespan.

“Due to the fact that fossil fuels are limited and will run out at some point, and because of their possible contribution to climate change, we must work hard to find other viable energy solutions – from renewable sources as much as possible. We have proved at South Gare that fuel cells can operate in critical applications.”

Andrew Ridley, conservancy operations manager, for PD Ports, said: “Over a number of years, PD Ports has championed the use of renewable energy sources to power its aids for navigation.

“The implementation of a hydrogen fuel cell to power the South Gare Lighthouse demonstrates how such new and innovative energy sources can be used to power critical safety aids in a hostile environment while delivering both environmental and economic benefits.”

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1: What is fuel cell technology? Fuel cells are similar to conventional batteries in that energy is produced from an electro-chemical process but, unlike batteries, they can supply full power as long as their fuel supply is maintained.

2: Is it reliant on energy created from a renewable, or green, source? The South Gare fuel cell is powered by hydrogen, which can be made in a sustainable manner from wind, wave, tidal or solar power via electrolysis.

3: Are fuel cells expensive to produce? Fuel cells can be expensive but as the technology develops, the costs will come down.

4: Why is hydrogen such a useful and powerful fuel? Hydrogen is the lightest of all the gases, and is a component of water, minerals and acids.

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