April 2013
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Winning design powers aeroplane
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It's a fact!

Winning design uses hydrogen fuel cells to power aeroplane

Hydrogen fuel cells are expected to play an important role in meeting the world's growing demand for clean energy.

The winning project, a radio-controlled aeroplane, uses hydrogen fuel cells as energy source.
Congratulations to the winner. From left: Lorenzo Raynard (SAASTA), winner Dolf van Rensburg, Mthuthuzeli Zamxaka (SAASTA) and Professor Kobus Pienaar (North West University).

Early in 2012, SAASTA invited the Potchefstroom Science Centre at North West University's Potchefstroom campus to run a competition aimed at creating awareness of the significance of hydrogen fuel cells. The science centre decided to participate as a research team led by Dr Dmitri Bessarabov of the Department of Chemistry, who has been contracted by the NRF to research various aspects of hydrogen fuel cells.

Winning entry

After the 19 entries in the 2012/13 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Awareness Competition* had been screened, the five most promising entrants were invited to present their projects to the judges and a fascinated audience at the science centre in March this year. Dolf Jansen van Rensburg was announced the winner of this student competition. He received R5 000 in prize money, sponsored by SAASTA.

"I am so pleased to be receiving this award. With the world suffering the impacts of global warming and running out of fossil fuel, aggravated by the ever growing population, South Africa has the potential to evolve as a world leader producing its own fuel for cars, aeroplanes and homes," Dolf said.

Demand for clean energy

The contestants were challenged to plan and design a system that would bring awareness of the important role played by hydrogen fuel cells in meeting the growing demand for clean energy. Dolf did a comprehensive study of hydrogen and fuel cells, including production storage and uses, to produce a radio-controlled aeroplane.

His model aeroplane was displayed at the university's science centre, where more than 10 000 visitors had the opportunity to interact with real small-scale fuel cell devices and with a 5 kW electricity generating hydrogen fuel cell donated by SAASTA, which illustrates how a fuel cell can electrolyse water and recombine it to produce electricity and water.

Second place went to a project titled Hydrogen fuel cell technology; while the third place was a tie between three projects - Hydrogen fuel cells in a nutshell: A South-African angle; Operation costs of a hydrogen fuel cell; and The Hyrunner Fuel Cell Cart. These projects demonstrated, among other things, that the underlying technology showed promise not only for hydrogen fuel cells, but also for use as a source of heat and electricity for buildings.

"We would like to thank SAASTA for the award, as well as for recognising the achievements of these bright young students who are helping to shape the future of clean energy," said Professor Kobus Pienaar, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences. "We applaud SAASTA for its huge contributions to the science community as a whole," he added.

Next year's competition

At the awards ceremony, students were encouraged to start planning early for the 2013/14 competition under the same theme - raising awareness of the importance of hydrogen fuel cells.

With more than 10 000 visitors arriving to see the winning entries, the competition succeeded in its objective of spreading awareness of the role that hydrogen fuel cells can play in the global supply of clean energy, highlighting South Africa's contribution to this important technology.

By Daphney Molewa, SAASTA

* The 2012/13 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Awareness Competition was supported by SAASTA, HySA and the Department of Science and Technology.