Ammonia to power rural mobile towers

South African-based natural gas firm Afrox and UK-based Diverse Energy are carrying out field trials in Namibia of new technology that could help power cell phone masts in rural Africa.

The PowerCube technology converts ammonia to hydrogen, which efficiently powers cell phone towers that have no access to grid electricity. The hydrogen-from-ammonia technology is expected to revolutionise the alternative energy market for telecommunications.

Around 130 000 remote area towers are erected around the world each year, with this number growing at a rate of around 6% a year. Much of this growth is concentrated in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America.

Afrox Business Manager Robert Carlton-Shield says: “ Coverage in remote areas is very patchy and not cost effective at present due to the need to power telecom towers using diesel generators, with all the logistical and environmental emission issues on top.”

He reports that the new energy source delivers higher efficiency and lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Importantly, it promises a two-year return on investment and a 25% reduction in the total cost of ownership over five years. In addition, Afrox says ammonia is readily available and affordable in most sub-Saharan countries.

PowerCube technology was recognized as the “ Next Big Thing” at the 2009 UK Government Innovation awards.

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