Testing clean energy solar power and fuel cell technology for off-grid sites

Digi is spearheading a proof of concept to test the use of a combined solar power and hybrid hydrogen fuel cell system to power off-grid base stations and replacing or reducing the use of diesel-generators.

Digi is currently piloting a project to reduce its base stations’ dependency on diesel generators as sources of power. This proof of concept, now being carried out at a pilot base station near Rompin, Pahang, uses a combined solar power and hybrid hydrogen fuel cell system to power off-grid base stations and replacing or reducing the use of diesel-generators and thereby achieving zero Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.

How will it work?

The combined solar power and hybrid hydrogen fuel cell system extracts water from the atmosphere. It then breaks the water down to produce hydrogen to power the fuel cells and generate electricity for the base station. The by-product of this form of energy is oxygen and water. Zero GHGs are released into the atmosphere as a result of this process.

A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction of positively charged hydrogen ions with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Fuel cells are different from batteries in that they require a continuous source of fuel and oxygen to sustain the chemical reaction, whereas in a battery the chemicals present in the battery react with each other to generate an electromotive force.

First in the industry

“We believe that we are the first at attempting to create a self-sustaining system in the industry that will not require refueling. This is because the hybrid fuel cells that are available now are largely dependent on the delivery of hydrogen gas tanks, methanol or other fuel sources to power the fuel cells,” says project manager, Alex Kuik. The system being tested does not require any of that, thus achieving carbon neutrality.

“The success of the testing will be dependent on multiple variables. If the system fails, it will switch over to the national grid, so this will measure the capacity and efficiency of the system.”

The return of investment on the hydrogen hybrid is from savings in diesel and logistic costs, reduction in vandalism and diesel pilferage. It is estimated to be achieved over a two to three year period.

The hybrid hydrogen fuel cell testing is made possible by a grant from the Green Technical Working Group under the Malaysia Technical Standard Forum Berhad, which is funded by the Malaysian Communications & Multimedia Commission.