Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Researching zero emissions

Northern testing could begin within the year

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Dec 03/01) - Northern communities may one day be able to switch their power source from diesel generators to environmentally friendly fuel cell technology.

NNSL Photo

Bak Chauhan, manager of Technology Development at Aurora Research Institute in Inuvik. - Lynn Lau/NNSL photo

A researcher at the Aurora Research Institute in Inuvik is trying to bring one of the hydrogen-powered fuel cells to the North to be field tested on a house in a remote community to produce heat and electricity.

Bak Chauhan, an electrochemist and manager of technology development, says the technology could be a viable alternative to polluting diesel generators. Since September, Chauhan has been contacting federal and territorial agencies, and although he's heard nothing solid back yet, he's optimistic the project will be on the rails within a year.

"It makes sense to field test them in the North as opposed to the south where electricity is cheap," Chauhan says. "The cost of the fuel makes electricity very expensive here -- 12 to 15 times higher than in the south. Fuel cells would be cost effective in the long run. And it's a clean technology -- there are no emissions and no noise."

Although fuel cells are being commercially produced, they are still very expensive, so Chauhan hopes that several agencies could form a partnership with the research institute to bring a pilot project to the North.

Fuel cells run on hydrogen, a ubiquitous molecule that can be derived from fossil fuels, or even from water. Producing hydrogen from water on site would be the ideal situation, since there's plenty of water in the North. But the technology is still in development, so Chauhan says the hydrogen might first be produced from fossil fuels.

The only by-product from a fuel cell generator is pure water. Chauhan says theoretically, about 80 per cent of energy produced in a fuel cell can be captured for use in the form of heat and electricity. In a conventional internal combustion engine, only about 50 per cent of the useable energy is captured, with the heat generated being lost as a by-product. Fuel cells are currently being used in prototype zero-emissions cars, but so far in Canada, no one has used them to produce heat and electricity for houses, Chauhan says.