Dr Jack Fletcher has been shortlisted for the 2022 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI) with the Hyena Power Pod, a fuel-cell based hydrogen generator that converts LPG gas into usable electricity, all within one device is one of the technologies that have been shortlisted for the 2022 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
Fletcher is the 11th innovator from South Africa to be shortlisted for APEI since it started in 2015. The Africa Prize is run by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering and awards crucial commercialisation support to African innovators who are tackling local challenges with scalable engineering solutions.
The fuel-cell based hydrogen generator runs on LPG gas, and a mini-grid monitoring system to help utilities and mini-grid operators manage solar installations.
Fletcher’s device is a diesel generator replacement technology that produces on-site, on-demand and reliable electricity. Fletcher and the Hydrogen Energy Applications (Hyena) team developed the technology as a way to deploy fuel cell technology into Africa.
The Royal Academy of Engineering in a statement this week said that by using the existing LPG infrastructure, Hyena made localised power generation in remote locations a reality. The Power Pod generated the necessary hydrogen from LPG and water, and then converted it into electricity.
“While methane and ammonia gasses could also be used, these presented the same challenge as hydrogen itself – there is no distribution infrastructure in Africa, making the barrier to entry very high,” it said.
Furthermore, the device was silent, generated no vibration or unhealthy particulates, and did not require frequent maintenance as there were no moving parts. It was designed to be simple to manufacture and easy to service and used exchangeable cartridges, much like the average printer, which could be swapped out when necessary.
The technology was particularly well-suited to power remote mobile phone towers where operators aimed to have their towers operational for more than 99.95 percent of the time, the academy said.
“Fletcher and his team have demonstrated the technology and developed several prototypes at a small scale. They are working on a pre-commercial, 5 kilowatt Power Pod for telecom towers.”
The innovators said that they wanted to make fuel cells possible and practical in Africa, where these new hydrogen technologies often faced obstacles not considered in developed regions.
In 2019, South African engineer Neo Hutiri won the prize for his Pelebox innovation, a smart locker that cuts down queueing times for patients collecting chronic medication.
Africa Prize judge Dr John Lazar, CBE FREng, said that once again they had received an inspiring calibre of applications for the Africa Prize.
"This year’s shortlist demonstrates how technology can be used to drive development from a grassroots level, and we look forward to supporting these innovators in expanding their impact across Africa,” Lazar said.
This year’s shortlist featured several medical innovations, including a smart, off-grid neonatal crib to treat jaundiced newborns, a device that maps a patient’s veins onto their skin to aid nurses inserting drips or drawing blood, a system that helps nurses monitor patients and improve their workflow, and a mobile, solar-powered fridge that keeps vaccines cold in the field.