Teesside world first in fuel cells

25 Sept 2007

A Teesside-based business at the cutting edge of technology has scored a world first by designing a ground-breaking environmentally-friendly fuel cell to power a lighthouse.

The historic South Gare lighthouse at the mouth of the River Tees leads to one of the busiest ports in the UK and was thought too exposed to use a fuel cell

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But the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), based at Wilton on Teesside, has worked with its partners to develop the innovation, which can operate in some of harshest weather conditions. The South Gare site is regularly lashed by high winds and rough seas but the lighthouse, built in 1884, plays a pivotal role in the success of Teesport, one of the UK’s three busiest ports.

The hydrogen fuel cell has been powering the South Gare light, which can be seen from 25 miles out to sea, for several months.

CPI worked with PD Ports, which runs Teesport, and manufacturing companies Pelangi, Schunk and Air Products to produce the cell, which is housed in a special cabinet at the lighthouse.

They now hope the technology can find a wider use, particularly in remote and hostile environments.

Nigel Perry, CPI’s chief executive, 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.

These aids include solar, wind and wave power, and have been primarily used to operate our navigation buoys, which are subject to the unpredictable forces of the North Sea.

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 whilst delivering both environmental and economic benefits.”

Mark Pearson, energy and process innovation manager at One North East, said: The successful development of this fuel cell is excellent.

It’s a world first and the knock-on effect for the energy sector as a whole could be massive.

The fact it’s been developed right here in the North-east, at the hugely successful CPI at Wilton, backs up our claim that the North-east is the energy innovation capital of the UK.”

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