CAPE TOWN (miningweekly.com) – Isondo Precious Metals is rolling out its fuel-cell strategy and is planning to establish a fuel-cell component manufacturing plant in South Africa.
Isondo CEO Vinay Somera on Wednesday said he and his team had “scoured the world” for the best-in-class technology with an eye on building a sustainable fuel-cell industry in South Africa. Isondo has invested in state-of-the-art German technology for membrane electrode assembly (MEA).
The modular plant would allow for easy expansion and customisation.
“We’ve given ourselves a two-year window to get to technical commercial scale. We think we could do it even quicker than that because we’ve got best-in-class technology. After that, it’s a matter of scaling it up,” Somera said at an event on the sidelines of the Investing in African Mining Indaba, in Cape Town.
Somera expects the plant to be up and running by the fourth quarter of this year or very early next year and says it will be located at either the Dube TradePort, in KwaZulu-Natal, or the OR Tambo special economic zone, in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.
The plant is expected to create 50 highly skilled and semiskilled jobs and is likely to contribute to the creation of up to 400 indirect jobs.
Isondo has plans to eventually become an important supplier to the automotive industry, but it will, at first, focus on the stationary market. It is looking at the fastest-growing fuel-cell markets, such as Japan, the European Union, the US and Korea and will be targeting companies such as Daimler, Toyota, General Motors, Renault, Nissan, Volkswagen, BMW and Honda.
Vinay said he looked forward to developing an industry in South Africa, with the help of an international top-class advisory board, and highly experienced COO, Sakib Khan.
He also pointed out that the company would, over the next two years, require R120-million in capital and operating expenditure.
“We’re getting some from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), are funding some [portions] ourselves and are looking for [other] investors,” he added.
Acutely aware that South Africa has more than 80% of the world’s platinum reserves, the DTI has thrown its weight behind the Isondo venture.
“Fuel cells are a natural fit for us. It feeds into our mineral beneficiation strategy and talks to our long-term sustainability ambitions in becoming a cleaner economy,” said DTI deputy director-general Malebo Mabitje-Thompson.
“We are looking at Isondo as one of the pilot projects to push forward our ambition in the sector. We are looking at this project, in particular, to create a vibe about the feasibility of manufacturing fuel cells in South Africa.
“We see the Isondo development as a window of opportunity. If we don’t wake up now and do something about it, someone else will take the opportunity. We want to be the leaders and work from here. We are taking it very seriously,” she added.
The venture also has the backing of the former executive director of Daimler Benz, Ferdinand Panik, who is now the head of the German Institute of Sustainable Energy and Mobility.
He sees the fuel cell system as a winning development, as it is highly efficient and there are no moving parts. Panik said battery and fuel-cell vehicles were expected to become dominant between 2030 and 2050, reaching about two-thirds of market share.
E4tech director and hydrogen energy and infrastructure expert David Hart, meanwhile, said platinum was very robust, with performance activities not matched by any other material. But scale was needed to make it profitable.
“If you produce 10 000 fuel cell vehicles a year, you will lose money. We need to start producing 100 000 to recover.”
He said 30 g of platinum was currently being used for each fuel-cell-powered car. This was too much and too expensive. However, as manufacturing evolves, he expects this to change, with fuel cell cars loading only 10 g of platinum per car by 2030.
Somera stressed that beneficiation was critical in boosting the South African economy.
“South Africa is a resource economy. Yet we just mine and export. It’s what companies have got used to. But if we don’t get into the new age of technology and manufacturing, the mining economy is going to die. We can’t allow this to happen. We can’t continue to mine with a sea of poverty around us. The mining industry has to get with the agenda in moving up the value chain,” he told Mining Weekly Online.