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DSI pursuing private sector partnerships to industrialise hydrogen catalyser projects

8th September 2023

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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Speaking at the Devac Hydrogen-H Conference in Johannesburg on September 7, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) hydrogen and energy acting chief director Dr Cosmas Chiteme said the department was actively pursuing partnerships, especially with the private sector, to implement key hydrogen catalyser projects to help achieve the goal of translating these initiatives into a localised industrialisation endeavour.

He mentioned collaborative modelling work conducted with the South African Institute of International Affairs, which explored various scenarios for South Africa.

They found that an inclusive approach, involving local value addition of platinum group metals (PGMs) for hydrogen fuel cell technologies, coupled with domestic market use, could lay the foundation for exporting resulting products. This scenario was identified as South Africa's preferred path.

He also raised the question of how to create opportunities for localisation. Notably, technologies such as PGMs-based catalysts and catalyst-coated membranes for electrolysers, initially developed at the University of Cape Town and later at Mintek, provided a solid basis for establishing a viable local industry.

The Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) national flagship programme initiated by the then Department of Science and Technology and approved by the Cabinet in May 2007, was launched in September 2008. HySA is aimed at advancing South African intellectual property, knowledge, human resources, products, components and processes within the global hydrogen and fuel cell technologies arena.

Its main strategy is to conduct research and development with the ambitious goal of capturing a 25% share of the global hydrogen and fuel cell market, leveraging novel PGM catalysts, components and systems, given South Africa's 75% share of global PGM reserves.

Chiteme emphasised the opportunity to convert South Africa's comparative advantage in PGMs into a competitive advantage, with strong support coming from the government.

“Our country has a window of opportunity to be a very important player in this technology, because the key minerals that we bring into this sector are coming from South Africa,” Chiteme noted.

HySA's focus is on developing value-added components that can integrate into global value chains, whether for the domestic or international markets.

Partnering with original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for validation and testing in commercial systems was seen as a means to facilitate technology exports, he said, while the availability of key minerals in South Africa further strengthened the country's potential role in this technology sector.

“Whether those systems are being manufactured for this market or for the global market, I think when you partner with OEMs, to have those technologies validated and tested in commercial systems, then you have a chance to export those technologies.

“So we are also looking at opportunities that, when we don't have expertise, will then allow inbound technology to come and complement our efforts as a country,” Chiteme explained.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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