Technologist, Solar NRJ Technical Director, Joseph Koh.

Using Water As A Renewable Fuel Source

By Ainul Huda Mohamed Saaid

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- There was a time when using water as a fuel source for energy was considered impossible.

However, with advances in technology, water can now be processed to generate energy. How is this possible?

The answer is in the hydrogen atoms that form the water molecule.

As is commonly known, the formula for water is H2O. This means water is made up of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom.

The chemical process of electrolysis breaks down the bond, releasing hydrogen.

The hydrogen gas is then kept in a high compression cylinder tank or dissolved in a special powder for the safe storage of the highly-flammable gas.


Technologist Joseph Koh, 36, believes that the usage of hydrogen for fuel would be helpful in reducing the worsening greenhouse effect or global warming.

"I truly believe that at the current rate we are going, with the climate change and the carbon emission, if we don't keep it in check, or if we don't do any damage control, we will be heading towards a catastrophe.

"There are many different solutions, but I found out that hydrogen could be the key to unlock the crisis," said Koh, who is the Technical Director of Solar NRJ, a solar energy equipment supplier.

The Uniten graduate in mechanical engineering has been researching hydrogen as a fuel source for 10 years now.


He then through Solar NRJ worked on developing hydrogen fuel cells that changes hydrogen into energy.

The main component of the cell is the polymer electrolyte membrane/proton exchange membrane (PEM).

The hydrogen gas released through the water electrolysis and the oxygen from the surrounding will flow through the PEM to generate electricity.

The byproduct of the process is only water vapour, which is harmless for release into the environment.

Koh said that the hydrogen fuel cells were designed for both portable and static application.

The cell is low in pressure and temperature, in addition to being able to be recharged via solar energy.


The innovation garnered the interest of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and was thus selected as one of the seven projects to receive a grant from the commission.

With concentrated effort and the boost received from the grant, Solar NRJ was finally able to develop an efficient and renewable energy system.

The system, which combines the hydrogen fuel cells with solar energy, has already been used at a base transceiver station (BTS) in Kuala Rompin, Pahang, since early this year.

Koh said the hybrid renewable energy system has solved many of the problems previously faced by the telecommunications tower.

"The BTS site works on diesel generators, so the maintenance is very high and they have to go down to the site every now and then.

"The battery is prone to theft. I was told that there had been an incident where thefts took place twice in one night. After they had replaced a stolen battery, the new one was also gone in a few hours.

"So this is a problem for them and it is also very costly for them replace those batteries," he revealed.

The system is more environmentally-friendly than diesel generators that release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur into the air.

Aside from that, it is also more energy-efficient and quieter.

"A problem I have noticed when I visit the site is that the BTS equipments are running only on two to three kilowatts.

"However the generator set they ordered is generating 15 to 20 kilowatts, so they are actually consuming excessive energy and not using the diesel efficiently," he explained, adding that diesel generators also emit very loud sound pollution that disturbs wild animals.

Other advantages of the hybrid generator were that it lasted longer and required low maintenance. In addition to the energy source being clean and renewable, it was also lower in cost when compared with diesel generators, said Koh.

HYDROGEN FOR THE FUTURE He believed that there was a huge potential for hydrogen to be widely used in the future to generate energy.

"Imagine, everything that is powered by electricity now, can be powered by hydrogen.

"We can also have a hydrogen tank at the petrol station to power cars, not unlike the NGV that we have now," he said.

Besides being used in telecommunication towers, Koh said, hydrogen fuel cells could also be used in villages, particularly in rural or remote areas and in remote army bases.