September 24, 2017

Hydrogen fuel cell prototype boosts Implats’ green credentials

A R18 m project has produced a prototype hydrogen fuel cell forklift and refuelling station, which sets the stage for building a sustainable fuel cell industry in South Africa.

Collaborative effort

The initiative commenced in 2012 and focuses on building local skills in the development of hydrogen and fuel cell products and co-funding. The project is a collaborative effort between Impala Platinum, Impala Platinum Refineries, the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) Systems and the department of science and technology.

Over the last three years, HySA Systems received a total of R6m from Implats to develop the system. The platinum producer plans to use hydrogen fuel cell technology as its main source of energy for material handling and underground mining equipment.

This investment is a result of extensive negotiations between Implats and UWC’s South African Institute for Advanced Materials Chemistry (SAIAMC), under the leadership of Professor Vladimir Linkov.

Research in a pillar of energy generation

“With Implats becoming a partner to SAIAMC, UWC has achieved the long-term goal of entering strategic research, development and innovation partnerships with an absolute national leader in one of the pillars of energy generation for current and future needs of the South African economy. This partnership is unique in the national system of innovation, unparalleled by any other university laboratory or institute in South Africa,” he comments.

Fahmida Smith, fuel cell coordinator at Impala Refining Services says, “These new applications are an exciting development in Implats’ move towards exploring a carbon-neutral fuel source for our operations and a practical example of our participation in collaborative efforts to develop fuel cell technologies and a vibrant, sustainable local fuel cell sector.”

Electro-chemical processes

Fuel cells are a collection of technologies that use electro-chemical processes rather than combustion to produce power. The technology will significantly enhance ventilation requirements, and reduce heat, noise levels, and noxious and sulphide emissions underground.

Commenting on the advantages of the technology, Smith adds, “The metal hydride hydrogen storage system allows the forklift to operate at lower pressures of 190 bar, thus improving safety and costs on the vehicles. The cost of the local refuelling station is around R2m with €500 000 for international systems. The fuel cell forklift also has lower noise levels and the metal hydride storage system ensures that there is sufficient fuel for two to four days operation before hydrogen refuelling is required – a process that takes only seven minutes.”

Economic development and sustainable job creation

Implats CEO, Terence Goodlace, comments: “Developing a viable fuel cell industry in South Africa has several advantages for the country such as economic development, sustainable job creation and social good.”

Industrialisation within South Africa as well as the country’s global competitive credentials would benefit through the development and implementation of this technology, providing an opportunity for South Africa to play a leading role in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and containing urban pollutants, which ultimately contribute to lower health care costs and an improved quality of life.

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