Methanol fuel cells aren’t exactly new, but their use in the oil patch of western Canada only dates back to a few years ago.
Their presence in the patch today is largely due to a company that is just slightly older than their use in that industry.
That company is Ensol Systems.
“Ensol’s been around for about four years,” account manager Jas Basi said from his Vancouver office.
“We build metering skids, we build chemical injection skids, we build communication towers,” he added, describing the business that also includes a field services team that helps companies with electrical and instrumentation work from the heart of British Columbia’s energy sector in Fort St. John.
Essentially, they supply the very facilities their methanol fuel cells are built to power.
“They’re fairly simple,” Basi said of the technology.
“The methanol’s injected into the fuel cell using a pump,” he continued. “There’s a chemical reaction. And the chemical reaction creates electricity.”
The only byproducts of that chemical reaction are water and carbon dioxide (CO2).
“But the CO2 [output is] less than what a human being breathes,” Basi added.
The green element of the technology is just as much a part of its growing popularity as its ability to provide power in remote locations and adverse weather conditions.
“The fuel cells were developed in Germany several years ago,” said Basi.
“And there’s about 25,000 of them employed around the world in numerous applications from the oil and gas industry to within the law enforcement industry for security cameras, for surveillance cameras. The military’s been using them to power up their equipment.
“Anywhere that there’s remote power needed, these fuel cells have been used.”
It can also work in concert with another green power option: solar energy.
“The advantage of solar is great, but this is a hybrid,” Basi explained.
“It’s going to enhance your solar systems. … The winter months in northern B.C., you may not get enough solar to operate your communication towers or your computer-aided dispatch or your compressors, because there’s just not enough solar. So, this is your back-up system to that solar.”
Ensol has tested the technology in the cold winter weather of northeast British Columbia and Alaska over the past two years.
“They meet our criteria,” said Basi.
“They haven’t had the failures that they used to have with strictly solar.”
The cost is also less than using fuels such as propane or diesel for these sorts of applications, but the technology still isn’t used widely in Canada.
“I think it’s like any item that’s new,” said Basi. “People have to feel it, taste it, try it.
“And that’s what we’ve been successfully doing over the last winter, is having big companies … use it in their most adverse conditions to ensure that it is a product that is worthy of using out there in a regular basis.”