S Africa can lead platinum-fuelled hydrogen economy

20th September 2019 By: Halima Frost - Reporter

Minerals Council South Africa CEO Roger Baxter claims that South Africa should be leading the global drive towards a platinum-fuelled hydrogen economy.

“The South African government, at provincial and national level, needs to realise the benefits of a platinum-driven hydrogen economy to become globally competitive.

“South Africa has not only the platinum resources to dominate the global drive but also the technology and skills set to become competitive,” he declares.

Fuel cell technology allows for decentralised power generation at a fraction of the cost and with considerably less negative impact to the environment.

“The uptake of a hydrogen economy can start arresting our negative climate change trajectory. South Africa’s ability to supply the platinum for the fuel cell technology will benefit not only the country financially but also the world environmentally.”

Baxter insists that the uptake of a hydrogen-driven economy and fuel cell technology has “enormous medium- and long-term potential” for platinum demand globally.

South Africa currently manufactures 9% of the world’s catalytic converters and also has the expertise to produce the platinum coatings, ceramic sponges and canning or exhaust systems required for the fuel cell industry.

The country also accounts for 71% of the world’s primary platinum supply, although the surplus of the past few years has placed South African mines under threat of closure. While substantially less than 2018’s 800 000 oz surplus, this year’s expected 350 000 oz will still be a significant overflow.

Amid South Africa’s platinum endowment and lagging demand globally, the Minerals Council has drafted its Minerals Council South Africa National Platinum Strategy, which, through its five stages of strategy development considerations, should assist in uplifting the platinum sector and, subsequently, establishing a local fuel cell industry.

Baxter highlights that the benefits of the platinum strategy are multifaceted, as it assists in “greening the planet”, creating an avenue for demand in terms of fuel cells and jewellery and, thereby, an opportunity for investment. There will also be greater demand because of new products used in industrial applications.

He also suggests that existing transport systems, such as the Rea Vaya bus rapid transit system and others in metropolitan cities, should be used as a foundation to build on the fuel cell industry. “The technology required to convert the buses is not as advanced as one would think,” Baxter comments.

He adds that countries such as the US, China and, most notably, Japan have taken up the fuel cell-driven vehicle, and “are successfully running with the concept”.

The Minerals Council further recommends that government makes an overt statement about the adoption of a hydrogen strategy for South Africa or at the least for a province, which could then be used as a case study.

“Our entire strategy is based on working collaboratively and smartly with a number of role players, including government to drive growth in platinum demand,” states Baxter.

Channels of communication have been opened with Gauteng Premier David Makhura on a provincial level, as well as Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe regarding a national uptake of a platinum-based hydrogen economy and the advent of fuel cells as the “solution to fix all problems”.

The platinum industry in South Africa is currently worth $10-billion, and by 2050 – through the successful implementation of the council’s five-step platinum strategy – could amount to $35-billion.

“We, as South Africans, will realise the real benefit of platinum only if we have these pathways at local level, where we can be a reliable supplier to the global marketplace,” concludes Baxter.