DURBAN (miningweekly.com) - The window of opportunity is "wide open" for South Africa to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and simultaneously obtain a source of clean zero-emission power, Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll said in Durban.
"With platinum at its heart, a fuel cell industry would support South Africa’s drive for jobs," Carroll said.
Anglo American, through the JSE-listed Anglo American Platinum, is the world’s largest producer of platinum.
Carroll outlined how Anglo American had put an expert body to work in London, which had concluded that hydrogen fuel cells could drive development of a whole new industrial sector in South Africa and provide the country with the opportunity to become a major player in the global green economy.
"The country has an opportunity to profoundly influence the climate change debate well beyond COP 17. While much of the talk of climate change is understandably focused on mitigating carbon emissions, we mustn’t ignore the huge opportunities that exist in a low-carbon world,” Carroll added.
Addressing a function for the presidency of the United Nations climate change convention’s 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) - which was co-organised by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce - Carroll said that the findings of the UK’s Carbon Trust on fuel cells development in South Africa were that:
• with the appropriate levels of deployment of investment in manufacturing, installation and maintenance activities, “hundreds of thousands of new jobs” could be created over the next 30 years;
• fuel cells produced could simultaneously help to meet existing energy security challenges and provide rural communities with energy, without any major expansion to the national electricity grid; and
• there would also be clear potential to export knowledge and products to the global market.
Carroll said that South Africa was already funding and directing research into fuel cells as part of its hydrogen strategy and fuel cell demonstration projects were under way around the country, ranging from the powering of vaccine fridges in rural clinics to providing heat and power for hospitals.
Anglo American Platinum was itself demonstrating a 150 kW zero-emission fuel cell close to the COP 17 conference venue to highlight the green credentials of platinum, which is on the way to being used in 95% of the world’s new cars to capture noxious gas.
Carroll reported that the R100-million fund to support users of platinum-group metals had made its first investment to a US company that was manufacturing and marketing fuel cell systems in South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa.
The use of fuel cells to power underground locomotives and miners’ cap lamps was imminent.
Hydrogen fuel cells using platinum catalysts were efficient, versatile and scaleable and represented a proven technology that provided clean, reliable and cost-effective power.
"I know that the South African government is determined to seize this opportunity," Carroll said, adding that South Africa could become a global leader in fuel cells.
Fuel cells, which used hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water and heat, could be used in their stationary format, with the source of the hydrogen from coal-bed methane, which could be used to produce water and electricity.
Carroll also pointed out that light emitting diodes (LEDs) used in flat screen television sets, smart phones and laptops used sapphire crystals from iridium crucibles, which was creating additional demand for iridium, a platinum group metal sourced mainly from South Africa.
Minerals Minister Susan Shabangu, who was in the audience, commented to Mining Weekly Online that Carroll’s comments were fully in line with the policy and strategy of the South African government.
Shabangu added that Carroll's steps to partner others in fuel cell development had the unique potential of achieving beneficiation and carbon reduction at the same time.
World Business Council for Sustainable Development Prof Dr Björn Stigson told the gathering that business had most of the technologies, financial resources and management skills required to deal with climate change, but needed supportive regulatory frameworks from governments to be able to deliver at the scale and speed demanded.
Stigson expressed the hope that COP 17 could advance the public-private partnerships as mechanisms for joint actions between governments and business.
International Chamber of Commerce secretary general Jean-Guy Carrier said that there had been a tremendous amount of global greening progress, even though the progress of official global climate change negotiations were relatively slow.
Carrier said that the founders of the International Chamber of Commerce in 1990 had a vision of business that went well beyond the bottom line.
“Those founders of the International Chamber of Commerce called themselves the merchants of peace, an elegant title, even today,” Carrier said.
Anglo American believes that the thermal coal that the company mines will continue to drive economic development around the world, growing from the current 40% of the global energy source to 43% by 2035.
“We’re not looking at a massive change overnight in some of the developed countries and similarly in the case of China, where 88% of the energy source is coal-related and the projection is that is will come down to less than 70%, but China demand is continuing to rise.
“Clearly coal’s not going away and clearly there’ll be a continuing dependency, and the question is how we think about that and how we also drive some of the other commodities we produce, like platinum, to contribute to the reduction of carbon output and the issue of climate change,” Carroll told Mining Weekly Online in a media interface at which executives Godfrey Gomwe, Chris Griffith, Norman Mbazima, Seamus French and Neville Nicolau also provided detailed input on the carbon reduction steps being taken throughout the Anglo American group.
Nicolau told Mining Weekly Online that the company was taking steps to lower the energy-intensity of platinum processing.
Nicolau said that the company had reduced its absolute energy consumption by 15% and increased the volume produced with the lower level of electricity.
“By doing that, we keep marginal operations going and we keep people in jobs, which is very important in South Africa,” he said.
Solar-powered housing for many of its 55 000 employees was within municipalities and not mine villages and the government had taken the unprecedented step of taking out full-page advertisements in national media to acknowledge Anglo American Platinum’s social initiatives.
Mbazima told Mining Weekly Online that, under any climate change scenario, the use of coal would still be on the annual increase for a long time to come.
He said that the world would have to find ways of using coal in a more sustainable way, while at the same time taking into account the hard reality that 1.3-billion people around the world were still without access to electricity.
Using mainly coal-fired power stations to bring most of those people into the electrical fold would probably increase greenhouse gases by only one per cent.
The quality of mainly domestic power station coal needed to be improved in order to reduce emissions.
The power stations themselves needed to take steps to improve their efficiency from the current global average of 28% and South Africa’s upcoming Kusile power station was set to improve that efficiency to 40%.
“If you waved a magic wand and turned all the power stations in the world into super crucial or ultra critical stations, you would probably halve the amount of greenhouse gases being put into the atmosphere from power generation,” Mbazima said.
The biggest potential abatement was through greater power station efficiency and the final possible measure was to capture the carbon dioxide emerging from power stations and to use it to grow biomass/algae or to capture it and store it underground.
Internally, the company was working to drive operational excellence around operational efficiency and energy usage and had invested $180-million in low-carbon technology.
The company was a member of FutureGen, which was planning to build a zero-emission coal-fired power station.
Technologies for carbon capture and storage were proven and what was required was demonstration at a commercial scale and the company was working with governments around the world to achieve that.
Australia-based French reported that the carbon tax passed in Australia in November would come into effect in July 2012, beginning at $23/t of carbon emitted for three years and transitioning to an emission trading scheme and free-market pricing in 2016.
Anglo American supported the notion of a carbon pricing in principle as a signal to future liabilities and to incentivise industry and consumers to reduce carbon.
But the company had two major objections to the design of the Australian carbon-pricing scheme.
The first was that it had been designed as a revenue-raising scheme and would raise $25-billion in the first the three years and $20-billion for the coal industry in the first eight years, of which the Anglo American share would be $2-billion in 2020.
But in the first three months, the Australian scheme would raise more than the European Union scheme had raised in its first six years of existence.
“So, it’s very clearly about revenue-raising,” French told Mining Weekly Online.
The second point was that the Australian industry did not allow time for the coal-mining industry to develop emission-reducing technologies.
The two together reduce Australia’s global competitiveness by raising the cost of production underground coal-mines by 7% and reduces the net present value of underground mines by 25%.
Australia’s official Opposition party had announced that it would repeal the legislation if it won the 2013 general election.
Despite the carbon tax, Anglo American was developing technology to capture the carbon dioxide from power stations for conversion into biofuels, for which field trials were due next year.
In Chile, Anglo American was producing a ton of copper with 40% less water and in South Africa it was producing 25 megalitres of drinking water for 60 000 people and would double that capacity by 2013, Carroll said.
Some of this water would also be supplied to the Kanyisa power project that would use waste discard coal from its Mpumalanga mines to produce 450 MW of electricity.
The company was committed to investments in clean coal technology aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of coal and its Australian business had invested $120-million in technology to abate methane emissions, which has enabled methane from underground coal mines to generate 75 MW of electricity, enough to power 48 000 homes and to deliver carbon-emission reduction equivalent to taking 480 000 cars off the road.
Metals were essential for enabling the whole carbon economy, with hybrid cars and electric cars that will be driven in the future containing three times the 20 kg-to-45 kg of copper used in today’s cars. A 1 MW wind turbine incorporated nearly 4 t of copper.