Will fuel cell technology replace telecom towers powered by diesel?

The technology is been used by Israel based GenCell Ltd which provides viable green primary power solution for off-grid and poor-grid telecom towers as well as rural electrification—at a cost less than diesel solutions

Fuel cell technology was initially used to power American and Russian space programs but was expensive. GenCell has tried to lower the cost of fuel cell technology in three steps and can be used for rural electrification and offgrid power which cost less than diesel. First, the company has removed platinum from Fuel Cell which has reduced the quantity of noble metals. Second, the company has opted for a combination of carbon and nickel. Third, the company has opted for a patented technology with respect to platinum catalyst and is focusing on nano fracting of platinum which results in capex reduction by 60-80% and can be used for energising telecom towers.

Normally, fuel cell works with hydrogen and oxygen but the company has developed a special forming technology whereby hydrogen is made from ammonia which is commonly used in fertiliser, refrigeration and plastic industry.

GenCell has developed a catalyst to break ammonia gas into a mixture of 75 per cent hydrogen and 25 per cent nitrogen. Hydrogen is consumed and produces efficiency of 50 per cent which is twice that of diesel generator. Without any power, GenCell A5 Offgrid power solution is a nano power plant and is fully independent of the grid to create power for use in telecom towers.

The breakthrough technology enables GenCell to provide the first viable green primary power solution for off-grid and poor-grid telecom as well as rural electrification—at a cost less than diesel solutions.

Fuel Cell Proof of Concept:

The new fuel cell technology is undergoing testing in two different cell sites in Israel for the last 14 months. The cell site is generating 3-5 KW and the energy is used to run mobile towers 24X7.

“In 2018, the company has bagged proof of concept deals with several mobile operators or tower management companies in 5 different countries – Africa, Central America and Far East. In every country, the company is deploying 2 towers in 2 different scenarios for validation and testing purpose,” says Rami Reshef, CEO, GenCell.

The company also plans to do proof of concept in India as it is a key market and using this technology, mobile operators can use to provide clean, reliable and cheap energy to mobile towers. The company is looking at joint venture or partnership for India operations with mobile operators or tower companies.

According to one estimate, if 10,000 sites are deployed using our technology in 10 years it will result in an opex saving of upto $150 million,” commented Reshef.

Commercial Installation:

Commenting on commercial installation of GenCell A5 Offgrid power, Rami Reshef said, “We are looking at commercial deployment in June 2019 and is planning to ship fully commercial and certified product to designated customers by second half of 2019. The company is looking at several 100 of sites in 2019 and plan to scale up in 2020.”

In terms of funding, GenCell is a private company and is well funded for the future.

“We are a healthy company with a sound investor background which allows us to execute our future strategies. We are investing a lot in terms of R&D which allows us to lead,” said Rami Reshef.

The company has decided to produce Ammonia locally as it will help in reducing the cost. The company is planning to produce produce energy at 70 cents/KwH with right fuel cell technologies.

GenCell was founded in 2011 and presently has around 80 employees, mainly from submarine and space sector. There is lot of opportunity for GenCell as around 1.1 billion people lack electricity globally and of this 84 per cent lives in rural areas. Globally, 1.2 million telecom towers will be powered by diesel generators by 2020 and they will in turn invest $19 billion and produce 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. GenCell is looking at these towers to provide renewable, green and non-expensive energy which provides low maintenance.



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