Power firm launches ‘off-grid’ system to bring electric car charging to remotest areas

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Read the original article by Matt Allan in The i here.

A new “off-grid” charging system has been launched claiming that it will bring zero-emission electric car charging to locations where traditional networks cannot reach.

Hydrogen power company AFC Energy today unveiled the H-Power system which uses self-contained charging systems powered by hydrogen to create “deployable” EV infrastructure for use at everything from hotels to music festivals.

The systems use standard shipping containers to house the mechanical and electrical components needed to offer rapid EV charging and its creators say can be scaled up from as few as two to as many as 100 charging points in a single location.

Powered either by hydrogen or ammonia, the H-Power units can be moved quickly into locations where on-grid charging isn’t possible and offer zero-emissions charging. The firm behind the system says it can be used to bring EV charging to remote areas where infrastructure is lacking and to congested urban areas where demand oustrips traditional supply.

It has also hinted that it could be deployed at temporary events such as music festivals to offer charging without the need for significant long-term investment.

A spokesman said: “In the UK, a recent study commissioned by Scottish Power found that to meet EV deployment targets, almost £100bn of new investment is required to upgrade the network and deploy dedicated EV charging stations throughout the country. For fleet operators, commercial vehicles and even private and public car park operators, large scale rapid charging is a corporate necessity, which in instances cannot be met without localised grid upgrades.”

At the launch of the H-Power units AFC Energy CEO Adam Bond said: “It can no longer be denied that EVs have become part of today’s mainstream automotive experience, but there are many areas where infrastructure is constraining mass deployment.”

“Our system is independent of the grid and delivers EV charging in the most remote off-grid locations or in highly populated urban areas where supply is over-subscribed. With this system, we provide a solution to support the industry’s emerging need for a national network of EV charge-points.”

The setup uses an alkaline fuel cell, fuelled by hydrogen, to generate electricity. The fuel cell operates as a "reverse battery" with chemical reactions at the electrodes; at the anode the hydrogen reacts with the hydroxyl molecule (or OH-) in an alkaline solution and in so doing loses electrons, meanwhile at the cathode a reaction between water and oxygen takes place that requires electrons. This pair of reactions causes the electrons to flow from one side of the fuel cell to the other and so creates an electrical current that is used to charge the electric vehicle.

In practice, a battery is used to buffer the charging as fuel cells work most efficiently when producing a steady flow of charge. In the H-Power units both the fuel cell and battery are housed in the unit, with external chargers attached to the battery.

As well as using containerised hydrogen gas, there is also the option to store the hydrogen in the form of ammonia and then release hydrogen when needed through a “cracker”. AFC Energy says this has two main advantages; first the ammonia can be made from water and the nitrogen in the air using energy from renewable sources such as wind power and solar cells; second the ammonia can be easily stored as a liquid at room temperature enabling “time-shifting” for energy. This last benefit is going to be critical as we move to a renewable-based world as we cannot be certain when the wind will blow and the sun will shine.