In a world first, hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has made substantial inroads in the automotive industry, have been adapted to power a lighthouse.
The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) has successfully demonstrated the ability of a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell to power the South Gare lighthouse on the River Tees.
Housed in a cabinet attached to the lighthouse, the fuel cell and its hydrogen cylinders has been powering the South Gare’s light, a 45W high-intensity LED that can be seen from 40km out to sea, for six months. The purpose-built stainless steel cabinet measures less than a cubic metre in size.
Dr Graham Hillier, director of new energy and fuel cell applications at CPI, said: ‘This is a demonstration installation for us to prove a fuel cell can operate in a harsh environment and for us to gather operational data for application in our other installations.
‘We are looking to roll out more permanent installations now, but the majority will be more benign ones than lighthouses.
‘There is interest in using fuel cells combined with wind turbines to provide long-term power, but I do not envisage this being a viable permanent solution without a lot more development and testing.’
Sea signal: the hydrogen fuel cells were tested on the South Gare lighthouse