Sudbury will soon have a new environmentally friendly green Christmas present in the form of two Ballard Power hydrogen fuel cells. Like wind energy and biodiesel fuel, fuel cells could help our mining companies provide cutting edge jobs for youth, while also becoming an economic driver for the city.
The application by Sudbury researchers of this technology is a world first because it combines fuel cells and robotics in the mining sector. It connects Laurentian University?s and Cambrian College?s leading edge research since they are jointly developing tele-robotics (i.e. remote controlled machinery for underground mining).
The machines are operated safely by operators from above ground buildings using advanced telecommunications. The machines can operate in areas considered dangerous for human operators. The advantage of powering the machines with fuel cells over diesel is that they emit no exhaust fumes which are harmful to workers underground. As well, unlike electric powered vehicles, fuel cell-powered robots require no cumbersome electric cables to provide the power.
Greg Baiden, director of the Laurentian University?s School of Engineering is bringing the fuel cells, manufactured by Ballard Power of Vancouver, to Sudbury.
?Fuel cells are a power plant that allow you to take hydrogen, and through a chemical reaction, turn it to electricity to power machines or other objects like portable computers,? said Baiden.
?What we?re doing is putting these units on board machines that we are tele-operating from a distance because it increases their reliability and their range,? he said.
The fuel cells will be arriving in late 2003 or early in 2004 and will power the mini-scoop tram models that Baiden and colleague David Cook have already developed.
?The model machines are prototypes for full-sized machines so we?re testing fuel cells in the models to see what will be required to make the bigger ones work commercially,? he said
Fuel cells already are powering mining machinery at Placer Dome?s Campbell Mine near Red Lake in
Northwestern Ontario. It was part of a $2.1 million project headed by the U.S. Fuelcell Propulsion Institute in Denver, Colorado along with Natural Resources Canada.
Baiden says he was on the Board of the Fuel Cell Propulsion Institute and was instrumental in raising interest in the technology for use underground while working as manager of Inco?s research group. These days at Laurentian, his passion is making sure Sudbury?s youth are preparing for a future in the fuel cell industry.
?We are training the students here on how to design the equipment and the college students are being trained in manufacturing,? he said.
Already two engineering students, originally from Sudbury, who left to do their undergraduate work at Queen?s University, have returned to Laurentian to complete their Masters program with Baiden.
?This kind of technology is allowing that to occur,? he said. Baiden said parts of the equipment and some of the concepts will be patented. Some local mining suppliers are interested in further developments.
Overall, the future for fuel cell propulsion looks bright.
Global demand for fuel cells is projected to be nearly $46 billion in 2011 and the industry is expected to grow by 60 per cent over this period, said a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report entitled Fuel Cells: The Opportunity For Canada.
Baiden thinks Sudbury has the opportunity to develop and then export this technology. Inco Ltd. and Natural Resources Canada have supported his work and he holds the prestigious Canadian Research Chair in Robotics and Automation, a privilege allowing him to attract research money.
Who knows? Baiden, along with support from the city?s new mayor and EarthCare Sudbury, could attract Ballard Power into building a fuel cell plant here.
?Fuel cells could be an important part of our future, both Inco and Falconbridge mine the platinum and palladium used in fuel cell manufacturing,? said Baiden.