How phase-change materials are saving lives

The Dulas solar-powered direct-drive vaccine fridge uses phase-change materials to store vaccines more effectively, helping save human lives.

The Dulas solar-powered direct-drive vaccine fridge uses phase-change materials to store vaccines more effectively, helping save human lives.

By Jason Deign

Phase-change materials (PCMs) are boldly going into an energy storage realm where even the most modern battery technologies have failed to deliver: saving lives.

Dulas, a Welsh renewable energy technology company, is using PCMs in place of batteries as an essential component of solar-powered direct-drive refrigerators for off-grid vaccine storage in developing countries.

On Monday the company announced a contract to supply 345 of its VC200 fridges to health and aid agencies working in Yemen, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The company said the deal represented “a significant expansion” of its partnerships with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Institute of Human Virology in Nigeria.

Dulas will be sending 60 fridges to the Institute of Human Virology, 143 to the WHO in Yemen and 142 to UNICEF in Sierra Leone. “There is the potential for further orders in the near future,” said the company. 
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Encell’s hardy battery targets emerging markets

By Jason Deign

Encell graphic: cycle life is determined by oxide solubility.

Encell claims to have a battery chemistry that can beat lithium-ion and lead-acid. Image: Encell.

Battery start-up Encell Technology is taking aim on emerging markets with a residential-scale product that bucks the current trend for sleek, eye-catching design.

The company’s Fused Iron batteries are visually unimpressive but able to perform better and withstand a much wider range of operating conditions than lithium-ion (Li-ion) rivals, said Encell chairman and founder Robert Guyton.

“There are fundamental trade-offs in lithium-ion when it comes to cost, cycle life and safety,” he said. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

Evaluating the trade-offs led Encell to select a nickel-iron battery chemistry instead.

Nickel-iron batteries have low specific energy and poor charge retention but are popular in mining because of their long operating life, of up to 20 years with regular cycling, and their ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions.

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South Africa supports storage

In an update to a story we first ran back in March, the government of South Africa has recently announced its backing for Ballard Power and Anglo American Platinum’s deployment of a domestic fuel cell system. Field trials will test a methanol-fueled product designed for use in off-grid residential applications.
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SMA plans new South Africa factory

SMA Solar Technology is expanding its presence in South Africa with the creation of an inverter factory. “Here photovoltaics is already a financially attractive alternative to other forms of power generation,” said SMA chief executive Pierre-Pascal Urbon.

“The planned production for central inverters enables us to meet the local content requirements and thus to profit from the expected future growth of the South African market.”

New energy storage alliance launched

Officially launched with 70 founding members, the International Battery and Energy Storage Alliance (IBESA) states its mission is to “promote a path of cooperation and mutual support in achieving proactive solutions between all sectors within the photovoltaic (PV) power generation, battery storage and the smart grid technology value chain.”

The two men behind the new association are Bryan Ekus, managing director of the International PV Equipment Association, and Markus Hoehner, head of the Hoehner Research & Consulting Group.

Aimed at promoting networking and professional resources for “all those who produce and support solar, battery and energy services,” the IBESA costs €3,000 per year to join. We wish them every success and hope they will add to the development and adoption of energy storage.

Storage improves mobile reliability

GE Durathon batteryPower outages are a regular feature of life in many parts of Africa, causing disruption to everything from healthcare systems to TV viewing. One area where they should now have less of an impact is mobile telephony, at least around the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Telco Safaricom has invested KSh96 million (USD$1.2 million) to purchase back-up batteries for its mobile towers in a bid to make them more resilient to the four electricity-free hours the city suffers on an average day. The new GE Durathon units will join 48 others that have already been installed and should also reduce the need to rely on polluting diesel generators, reports Business Daily Africa.

Platinum to power Africa

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) is to invest USD$4 million in Canadian company Ballard in order to support projects to commercialise platinum-based fuel cell products.

Specifically, this will include the development of a prototype ‘home generator’ with the potential to provide cheap electric power to remote rural African households, stored using Ballard’s methanol-based fuel cell technology.

Godfrey Oliphant, South Africa’s deputy mineral resources minister, said his department was pleased by Amplats’ commitment to platinum beneficiation, adding that fuel cell-based product developments could boost global platinum demand.

“South Africa is the leading producer of platinum, and innovations such as the home generator project move our country in a positive direction towards participating actively in the application of platinum-group metals in new technologies which will create important jobs for our economy,” Oliphant said.

Bike powered storage wins design prize

South Africa-based Ideso has won a prestigious international design award for its PowerPac generation and energy storage unit. Retailing at around USD$668, PowerPac attaches to a common-or-garden bicycle to utilise peddle power and can store up to 132Wh of electricity for home use, reports Media Club South Africa.