South Africa’s hydrogen energy sector is a burgeoning one that has been under much consideration over the years. On the 31st March 2016 a hydrogen fuel cell forklift and refuelling station prototype was unveiled in Johannesburg and this has boosted the industry tremendously. This has been the project of the University of the Western Cape and Impala Platinum Holdings (Implats).
Hydrogen is an energy carrier. It can store and distribute energy and when combined with the use of fuel cell technologies it can produce electricity. This technology is promoted in South Africa because platinum group metals are the key materials used in most fuel cells. With more than 75% of the platinum reserves found in SA, our country is well positioned to be a leader in the developing field of this technology.
The big reveal of this hydrogen fuel cell forklift and refuelling station is the result of Implats having provided funding to HySA Systems. The funding amounted to a robust R6 million which was pushed straight into this prototype development. The goal is that Implats will make use of fuel cell technology as its primary source of energy for all its material handling and underground mining equipment. Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor spoke at the unveiling event and said that fuel cell technology has the potential to provide SA with affordable, sustainable, safe, reliable and clean energy which will underpin economic development and growth in the country. Not to mention that this technological advancement will lower costs and diminish equipment finance needs by providing a more affordable and local option which thwarts the need for importing tools and equipment.
Pandor believes that SA could easily become a leader in hydrogen fuel cell technology, she said, “South African scientists are increasingly leaders in research into the developmental imperative of our society – finding innovative solutions to rural development, tackling problems of gender equity in the home and at work, and looking for new research opportunities to support sustainable growth.”
For hydrogen fuel cell technology to be used far and wide and adopted by the majority, South Africa turns to public-private partnerships (PPPs). PPPs would be able to fund the infrastructure necessary for this technology to be quickly adopted.
The prototype is born of a collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology through the HySA Systems Centre of Competence at the University of the Western Cape and Implats and their Impala Refineries.
This fuel cell technology affords South Africa the opportunity to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the amount of pollution that’s created from the heavy industrial sector. What’s more, new technology like this will aid in job creation and overall sustainability efforts in the country.