South Africa is among the pioneers of technology in the global hydrogen fuel cell industry – although developments are still in their infancy they are progressing steadily.
South Africa has an absolute advantage in hydrogen fuel cell manufacture as an energy storage technology, in having most of the world’s reserves of platinum-bearing ore and being home to leading platinum mining companies and refineries.
The country’s platinum miners are backing fuel cell technology as a replacement for catalytic converters used in traditional oil-based fossil fuels as the international drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions makes electric vehicles attractive. Vehicles powered by fuel cells, which use platinum as a catalyst, are not only a much cleaner alternative to vehicles powered by diesel and petrol, they have a greater range than electric vehicles. Fuel cell mining equipment also offers important health and safety benefits compared to diesel and electric options in underground mining applications.
Mineral-based energy solutions like fuel cells and energy storage are gaining momentum, with a number of key projects already being implemented by government, the Industrial Development Corporation and the industry.
Ongoing fuel cell projects include development of bus, forklift and mining equipment prototypes, stationary combined heat and power applications and rural electrification projects. Localisation discussions are under way with fuel cell OEMs in co-operation with the Department of Science and Technology’s HySA initiative.
Globally, the demand for energy storage has risen and continues to grow, especially as a result of the rise of distributed energy generation models. For South Africa, energy storage systems offer the ability to complement distributed energy generation by storing production surplus during low demand periods and meeting higher demand during peak periods.