Platinum group metals playing key role in Proudly South African hydrogen breakthrough

5th November 2021

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor


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JOHANNESBURG ( – Platinum group metals (PGMs), which are hosted overwhelmingly in South Africa, have played a key role in rocketing the performance of local alkaline electrolysers, in which PGMs are not generally used.

Hydrox Holdings of Randburg, which has been pursuing hydrogen solutions for more than two decades, has achieved a wonderfully cost-effective hydrogen generation breakthrough in which PGMs feature in a highly uplifting manner, Hydrox CEO Corrie de Jager outlined to Mining Weekly in a Zoom interview. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

Until now, alkaline electrolysers have been dogged by the issue of low current density. But by incorporating PGMs in the catalytic coatings of the electrodes, Hydrox has been able to achieve rocketed current densities of more than 700 milliamps per square centimetre (mA/cm2) at an operating voltage of 1.8 VDC.

This is a massive advance on the normal 100 mA/cm2 to 200 mA/cm2 and has opened the way for the introduction of Hydrox’s 1 MW Advanced Alkaline Electrolyser, a so-called zero-gap system, which will have a capacity to generate 400 kg of hydrogen a day. If sun, wind or hydropower are used, zero-carbon green hydrogen will emerge, which is just what today’s climate-conscious universe is clamouring to get its hands on.

A small-scale demonstration version will be operational before the end of this year, testing of the first 1 MW unit is due in 2022, and full scale production and installation are scheduled to take place in 2023.

“What’s nice about the whole thing is that the bulk of components, 60% of them, are locally manufactured and sourced. Only the electrodes make up the major importation and we’re in discussion with a local company and I’m very proud to say – and I just spoke to the CEO yesterday – he’s very keen to manufacture the electrodes locally. That will have a huge push. If we can push the local content up to 80%, that’ll be fantastic. We can take it forward and it’s all South African,” De Jager enthused.

“Now is the time to take the huge step by entering the manufacturing arena. Suddenly from a 5 kg a day to a 400 kg a day unit is massive. We’re on the brink of huge developments and the prospects are fantastic. Let’s go and make this world green in the interests of our country and everybody,” De Jager urged.

Hydrox was the first company to demonstrate a fully functional membraneless electrolyser through its internationally patented DEFTTM technology, but in response to the huge immediate demand for hydrogen, it has put a hold on all that to allow it to press ahead with its Advanced Alkaline Electrolyser, which has electrodes that use membranes.

Its robustness and reliability are hallmarks of alkaline electrolyser, which last many years – “possibly 20, 30, 40 years, who knows – and all you’ve got to replace every seven to eight years is the stack itself, which comprises the electrodes and the membranes – that brings the capital cost down markedly,” he enthused.

With the latest Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, or REIPPPP, bidders of solar at 30 c/kWh, Hydrox can produce hydrogen at $2.66/kg.

The 1 MW alkaline electrolyser is big enough to conceivably supply electricity to 1 000 houses. “If you want 2 MW, you can put two 1 MW units together. If you want to replace the whole unit, you just take it out and plug in the new one. When we start doing mass production, its cost will fall. The whole idea is to bring green hydrogen to the people, that’s why it's a 1 MW unit that you can put where you want,” he said.

Hydrox does not do storage at this stage, which would add about $1/kg to $1.25/kg to the cost.


News just breaking is that the Namibian government has announced the selection of HYPHEN Hydrogen Energy as the preferred bidder for a $9.4-billion green hydrogen project to be developed in the Tsau//Khaeb National Park, near the coastal town of Luderitz, in southern Namibia.

HYPHEN is a joint venture between Nicholas Holdings Limited, a strategic investment and infrastructure project developer, and ENERTRAG South Africa, a unit of an independent German energy company that has a portfolio of renewable energy projects and which has also been producing green hydrogen since 2011.

HYPHEN director Dr Tobias Bischof-Niemz, who is also ENERTRAG South Africa CEO, described the investment as a “milestone” in Namibia’s ambition to be a leading international producer of green hydrogen. 

This ambition, Bischof-Niemz added, would not only facilitate the full decarbonisation of the Namibian economy but support the decarbonisation efforts of other countries, which were turning their attention to the hard-to-abate sectors of marine and land freight, steel, chemicals, fertilisers and cement.

The project would create 15 000 direct jobs over the four-year construction period, as well as 3 000 permanent direct jobs over the 40-year operational period.

Following a competitive tender process, Namibia announced that HYPHEN had been selected as the preferred bidder to build a vertically integrated project able to produce 300 000 t/y of green hydrogen and green ammonia for export into regional and global markets from 2026 onwards.

Once the feasibility study is concluded and the project reaches financial close, HYPHEN will have the right to construct and operate the project for 40 years.

Speaking during an event hosted at the COP26 Commonwealth Pavilion on November 4, Namibia’s Presidential Economic Advisor James Mnyupe said the project was closely aligned with the Namibian government’s vision for green hydrogen and for the Karas region, in southern Namibia.

Mnyupe said that, while a large focus would be on exporting to Europe, there was also potential to sell some of the output to neighbouring countries, to “take advantage of the vision that our leaders have for the African Continental Free Trade Area”.

“A lot of our neighbours have been contacting us – Angola, South Africa and Botswana – to ask how this project can be integrated into the Southern African Power Pool,” he reported.

HYPHEN CEO Marco Raffinetti said that the first $4.4-billion phase of the project would involve the building of 2 GW of renewable-electricity generation capacity, as well as the electrolyser capacity to produce green hydrogen for conversion into green ammonia.

The project will use desalinated water, part of which will be supplied to communities in nearby Luderitz.

Further expansion phases in the late 2020s would raise the total investment value to $9.4-billion, which was almost in line with Namibia’s current gross domestic product.

Once complete the integrated facility would have a renewables generation capacity of 5 GW and electrolyser capacity of 3 GW, with surplus electricity capacity to be fed into the Namibian grid and potentially into the regional power pool.

“The Tsau //Khaeb National Park is among the top five locations in the world for low-cost hydrogen production, benefiting from a combination of co-located onshore wind and solar resources near the sea and land export routes to market,” Raffinetti said.

“Really, the market lies in Africa,” said De Jager. "Now with all the incentives coming from COP26 and the IPPs with the low cost power, it’s fantastic. We can do it. The African Hydrogen Partnership is planning a highway all the way to Cairo. There’s a lot of potential in Africa for us and even in South Africa, 238 kt that Anglo American predicts is going to be much more. If we start eliminating coal and Sasol gets involved here, this can really take off in a big way,” added De Jager.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter


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