The Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) strategy has produced multiple inventions and pilot projects that are nearing commercialisation, Department of Science and Technology Hydrogen and Energy chief director Dr Rebecca Maserumule told attendees of the thirtieth International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE) Outreach and Education Conference, at the University of Pretoria, on Tuesday.
“Fifteen years ago, when the IPHE was created, we were probably a lot more optimistic than we should have been,” she commented, adding that the journey toward a hydrogen economy “is going to take a lot longer than expected.”
Nonetheless, IPHE chairperson Dr Sunita Satyapal noted that the world was experiencing an “unprecedented time in history” in terms of the development of the hydrogen economy, citing some 10 000 commercial fuel cell vehicles, 250 000 stationary residential units in Japan, and numerous plans from governments actively targeting access to and acceptance of new fuel cell applications.
Maserumule noted the importance of fuel cells and their ability to practically address societal ills. “It’s important to understand what we’re doing is very practical; the work that we’re doing actually solves problems that [we] engage with on a daily basis,” she said, pointing to issues around access to electricity, stability of supply and sustainable power generation and consumption.
“In South Africa, we’ve experienced load-shedding . . . we have an energy grand challenge, in that our energy system is backed by coal-fired power stations but we have to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce dependence on imported oil and provide universal access.”
She noted that the aim is to increase the percentage of alternative energy sources and invest in low-carbon technologies.
“Ten years ago, [South Africa’s] Cabinet approved the HySA strategy, aimed at developing local, cost-competitive, hydrogen generation solutions,” Maserumule said, adding that these solutions are aimed at championing wealth creation through the beneficiation of South Africa’s abundant platinum group metals reserves.
One of the goals was for South Africa to supplying 25% of platinum group metals catalysts by 2020.
“We understood that these aspirations had to be backed by human capital development, which is why Stage 1 of HySA was aimed at establishing the research and development capacity.”
Maserumule noted that the country has progressed to the last year of Stage 2, namely demonstrating and validating technology.
There are also several inventions and projects that can be commercialised in line with Stage 3 of the strategy.
Maserumule cited three public–private partnerships. Firstly, Anglo American Platinum has partnered with HySA Centres of Competence on the development of a fuel-cell dozer, which the company is planning to debut at one of its operations in 2019.
Secondly, Impala Platinum has provided funding for the development of a fuel cell-powered forklift, which has been in operation at Impala Platinum’s refinery, in Springs, Gauteng, since October 2015.
Finally, work is being done on an electric fuel cell using a range extender to power a scooter, which will be used by the South African postal service as part of its initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint.
These projects fall under the ambit of HySA Systems, headed by Dr Sivakumar Pasupathi, who’s centre of competence focusses on the integration and validation of fuel-cell vehicles.
HySA Infrastructure director Dr Dmitri Bessarabov noted that his centre of competence, which focusses on hydrogen production, storage and delivery, is working on fuel cell development for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which he believes offers significant potential given that UAVs represent a $120-billion industry.
The Infrastructure centre of competence is also working on solutions relating to renewable hydrogen production.
Meanwhile HySA Catalysis director Dr Sharon Blair’s centre of competence is looking at iridium-oxide catalyst production, using iridium from Implats and has achieved a 60% cost reduction in catalyst product development.
Additionally, the centre has spun off a commercial arm, HyPlat, incorporated in 2016, which has 154 active Middle East and Africa customer engagements.