JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Platinum miner Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) expects to put a fuel-cell powered mine locomotive through its paces in the first half of this year.
The locomotive will initially be tested on surface at Amplats' Dishaba mine, which is situated in the Limpopo province.
“Hopefully by March/April, we’ll have a loco on surface that will be fuel-cell based,” Amplats market development and research head Anthea Bath tells Mining Weekly Online in a video interview.
The point of the demonstration will be to show that fuel-cell powered locomotives can provide superior efficiency and productivity and offer zero-emission underground transport.
The locomotives currently run off battery power. Fuel-celled forklift trucks have already gone commercial in the US, replacing battery-powered units.
JSE-listed Amplats is the world’s largest producer of platinum, which is used as a catalyst in fuel cells.
Last year Amplats unveiled a pioneering clean-energy fuel-cell power plant that uses coal-bed methane gas from group company Anglo Coal.
The coal-bed methane is reformed into hydrogen, producing both electricity and heat. Efficiencies of up to 83% can be achieved when use is made of both the electricity and the output heat.
Fuel cells are poised to play a role in vehicle and stationary applications worldwide, providing a significant platinum extraction opportunity for the mining industry and a potential manufacturing, installation, maintenance and job-creating opportunity for South African industry in general.
Bath says that a relatively moderate niche penetration of the fuel cells into the huge global energy market is able to drive substantial platinum demand.
Fuel-cell back-up of Amplats’ own intermine communication systems is also being studied, along with fuel-cell powered miners’ caplamps.
Amplats is working closely with the South African government to develop the business of fuel cells, which convert the chemical energy from a fuel, generally hydrogen, into electricity through a chemical reaction that has water as its byproduct.
All other energy-generating technologies consume water rather than generate it, which places fuel cells in a preeminent position as an energy generator in dry regions.
The modular nature of fuel cells facilitates incremental expansion on relatively small footprints.
A R100-million fund has made its first allocation to a US company manufacturing and marketing fuel-cell systems in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
“We are working closely with the South African government to drive fuel cells as a beneficiation opportunity locally. The business case makes sense,” Bath tells Mining Weekly Online.