Chamber of Mines turns on Africa's first platinum fuel cell


Africa's first 100-kilowatt (kW) fuel cell that runs on platinum and natural gas has been installed at the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg, which will provide baseload power to the entire building. 

The Platinum Power Fuel Cell is Africa's first-ever building base-load fuel cell that runs on natural gas. It could power the equivalent of about 100 average South African homes. 

Speaking at the launch last week, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said South Africa, home to 80% of the world's known platinum reserves, was at the forefront of developing fuel cell technology. 

Davies said the fuel cell components would see South Africa gain entry into the manufacturing and distribution of fuel cell components. They would be targeting 1 000 Megwatts (MW) of platinum fuel cell-generated electricity supply by 2020, which would increase platinum demand by 5%. 

Platinum Power Fuel Cell is a joint project between the Department of Trade and Industry and Mitochondria, the energy company that received loan financing of R3.25- million from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). The DTI contributed R7.5- million for feasibility work of the project 

Green energy

The fuel cell's reliability and security of supply make it particularly attractive in the South African context, the project said on its website. Advantages of the technology are that it is green energy, and can provide distributed, off-grid generation. It also has low operating and maintenance costs. 

Davies said the fuel cell answered demand and enhanced opportunities for the mining industry. "The real value chain is by being involved in value addition through beneficiation," he said. "We have been looking at ways we can add value to our resources as a driver of industrial development in our country." 

He said South Africa was well placed to become a "significant player" in the manufacturing of fuel cell generators using platinum. About 70% of the country's platinum is currently used for the manufacture of jewelry or catalytic converters in cars. 

Top of the value chain

Davies said platinum power fuel cell technology takes the country to the top of the value chain where "we would be able to establish small plants like this one providing power in outlying areas and areas where it is difficult to connect people to the grid". 

He said the DTI had "a range of incentive programmes" in place and was contemplating the development of a platinum-based Special Economic Zone (SEZ). 

Impala Platinum announced on Tuesday that it had partnered with Mitochondria to develop and deliver fuel-cell solutions, including the development of a 1.8MW hydrogen- fed fuel cell power solution at its Springs refineries in the second quarter of 2015. 

"We envisage this being rapidly followed with the execution of a larger installation at the refineries with the ultimate goal of moving our refineries off-grid," Implats chief executive Terence Goodlace said at the launch. "The second phase is expected to deliver 8MW of fuel cell driven power from a natural gas source, with the final phase delivering in excess of 10MW."


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