JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Platinum major Impala Platinum (Implats) is studying the feasibility of taking its entire platinum refinery off the national electricity grid and powering it with platinum fuel cells.
The refinery already has a supply of available hydrogen to fuel the cells and would need some 20 MW of fuel-cell power if it were to do without the Eskom grid.
In the interim, plans for an initial 2 MW fuel cell, which would be the biggest such unit in the southern hemisphere, are at an advanced stage.
“We’re going ahead with the project to put in the 2 MW unit at the refinery. The benefit of that for us right now is that we can do away with all of our generators, peaks and reduce our reliance on Eskom in that way,” Implats CEO Terence Goodlace told Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online in a video interview on Tuesday, when the company reported 3.6% lower half-year revenue at R15.9-billion and a 40.7% higher unit cost of R22 952/oz caused by 10.4% group inflation.
“We’ve got a ready supply of hydrogen, which we use in the refinery and we’re looking at taking the whole of our refinery off grid power through putting in fuel cells,” Goodlace outlined, adding that at mine level, fuel cells were also being tested to power locomotives and load haul dumpers.
“If we can get the 2 MW in this year I’ll be very happy. As far as the bigger units are concerned, we’ve got to do some detailed planning, but within a year we should probably have a concept study completed,” he said, adding that he expected the fuel cell power to come in on par with the Eskom tariff.
What is key for Implats is that it will not own the 2 MW fuel cell.
“Bearing in mind where PGM prices are now, ideally I would have liked to have bought it ourselves, but ultimately we’re going to pay for the power and we’ll facilitate through providing the necessary platinum that’s going to be used in that unit,” he told Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online.
With fuel cells still coming off a low base, they are still relatively expensive, but ultimately, from an economy of scale perspective as more and more units are produced world-wide, they have the potential to become cheaper from a capital perspective.
From a pure total cost of ownership perspective, they are already cost effective, given that they require very little management, have no moving parts, operate noiselessly and are emission free.
However, every seven or eight years, their membranes need replacing.
Implats is working closely with local companies as well as a Japanese fuel cell manufacturer and believes there is an opportunity opening up for the membranes used in the fuel cells to be locally manufactured.
The company is in discussion with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which has set up a special economic zone in Rustenburg for platinum beneficiation.
The DTI is expected to make an announcement on March 31, when the platinum fuel cell that has allowed the Chamber of Mines (CoM) building in Johannesburg to go off-grid, is officially launched.
The 100 kW CoM installation, which scrubs and reforms Egoli gas into the hydrogen that fuels the cell, also produces heat, which is expected to be used in the lower floors of the CoM building.
Fuel cells are currently consuming only about 200 000 oz to 300 000 oz of platinum a year and not rising as fast as hoped.
However, Toyota and Hyundai are due to launch fuel cell cars this year and the Japanese government is putting in fuelling stations.
Is this the next wave? The industry is holding thumbs that it is.