KINGSTON: The University of Technology (UTech) has launched a research project aimed at developing a commercially viable hydrogen gas to be used as “regular” cooking gas in Jamaica.
“The research focuses on the production of hydrogen gas from water. The hydrogen will be used for cooking. The idea is to provide an affordable substitute to LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) cooking gas, to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels,” said Project Manager, Dr. Ruth Potopsingh, at the launch, which was held at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston last week.
Dr. Potopsingh said the project, which is a renewable and sustainable energy intervention, will last for 36 months and will receive approximately 421,000 Euros, representing 85 per cent of the total cost.
The project is grant funded by the European Union (EU) and is titled “The Application of Solar-Powered Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Electrolysers for the Sustainable Production of Hydrogen Gas as fuel for Domestic Cooking”.
“There are some areas which need to be perfected, like reducing the energy cost of splitting the atoms in the water to produce the hydrogen, hence the use of optimised solar panels,” said Potopsingh. “Safety is another area, especially the materials used to make the containers to store the gas.”
She said that the successful outcomes of this research are expected to contribute to the reduction in the energy import bill for Jamaica, and the African, Caribbean and Pacific states which embrace the technology; make more resources available to meet other basic socio-economic needs; increase the use of renewable energy resources and reduce deforestation caused by the cutting of trees and charcoal burning for cooking.
Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Minster, Phillip Paulwell, who was the keynote speaker at the launch, said the project is the first of its nature to be undertaken in Jamaica, and comes at a time when initiatives like these are needed and can have a meaningful impact on the society.
“When we consider that, in Jamaica, 84 per cent of households use Liquefied Petroleum Gas, which is distributed in cylinders for cooking, we can see immediately that developing the ability to produce hydrogen gas in a sustainable manner, as a fuel for cooking, could contribute significantly to reduce the national import bill for petroleum products,” said Paulwell.
Paulwell said the main beneficiaries of the project will be Jamaican householders.
“There is also the prospect of commercialization, because this product has the potential to provide opportunities for the development of small manufacturing enterprises,” said Paulwell.
Stating that the government wants to get Jamaica on a different development track and create jobs, Paulwell invited UTech President, Professor Errol Morrison, to work with him “towards the full commercialization of this and other projects, as quickly as possible”.
Paulwell also congratulated the UTech team, and urged all the parties in the project to deliver.
“Jamaica needs innovators and innovations like this,” he said. “Through education, research and innovation, we will solve, not just our energy problem, but, indeed, all our problems.”
In his opening remarks, Morrison said the project represents a ‘win, win’ situation for the university, the government and the people of Jamaica.
“We are not only going to develop a pilot or do research, we shall take this into the realm of entrepreneurship, so that having demonstrated, we will develop the industry and create jobs for our graduates and jobs for the people,” said Morrison.
The project represents the first time that UTech is the lead researcher in an EU project. UTech will be partnering with the University of the West Indies, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining and Brunei University.
Principal investigator and technical manager of the project, Dr. Earle Wilson, said key areas to be investigated are: power characterization of the photo-voltaic system (converting sunlight into electricity); colouring the flame of the burning hydrogen gas so that it can be seen; giving a scent to the hydrogen gas in case of leakage; preventing gas flame blow back; gas storage medium and gas stove modifications.