South African-developed fuel cell passing tests at Implats refinery

29th March 2021 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

South African-developed fuel cell passing tests at Implats refinery

Impala Platinum group executive: refining and marketing Sifiso Sibiya

JOHANNESBURG ( – A South African-developed stationary hydrogen fuel cell is doing well as it is put through a testing phase at the Impala Platinum (Implats) refinery, group executive: refining and marketing Sifiso Sibiya has revealed.

The stationary hydrogen fuel cell at Implats’ precious metals and base metals refinery in Springs, on the East Rand, in Ekurhuleni, currently receives hydrogen from energy company Sasol.

Speaking during a panel discussion moderated by AP Ventures founding partner Kevin Eggers and including Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman, Anglo American Platinum executive head: project and environment Prakashim Moodliar and Public Investment Corporation sector specialist mining, beneficiation and energy Heidi Sternberg, Sibiya described as positive the tests conducted so far on the locally developed fuel cell.

The stationary fuel cells’ testing follows the already successful implementation of a fully operational mobile hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklift at the refinery of the JSE-listed Implats, which has donated 16 ha of its land for fuel cell manufacture at the platinum group metals (PGMs) special economic zone (SEZ).

“When we began with the hydrogen fuel cell forklift, the aim was to expand that to more than 50 units after prototyping, but the challenge is the availability of hydrogen to other facilities, and that’s what is putting the brakes on what we’re developing,” Sibiya said during the panel discussion covered by Mining Weekly.

“But with more adoption and more availability of hydrogen, there would be good uptake, because what we have seen is that employees prefer to use the fuel cell forklift,” said Sibiya, who added that the employee preference was based on fuel cell forklifts being very quiet and emitting zero air pollution.

Hydrogen coming to site was, Sibiya said, also used by the base metals refinery to process nickel to metal form – and similarly, in the precious metals refinery, hydrogen was used to process palladium and some of the other PGMs. Hydrogen’s added importance in nickel processing was that it elevated the metal to London Metal Exchange grade by removing some of the impurities.

The panel discussion highlighted the link between PGMs, which catalyse the electrolysers that generate hydrogen as well as the fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity to power mobile and stationary applications.

Five years ago the hydrogen opportunity, said Eggers, was really about selling fuel cell electric vehicles in California – a distant proposition based on new hydrogen electric vehicles coming to market.

“But now there is considerably more to the hydrogen story and importantly there is a South African angle to it,” Eggers added.

In December, Implats announced that it would be joining AP Ventures, an independent venture capital fund focussed on investing in early-stage companies that use or enable the use of PGMs, which are helping the world to combat climate change.

Existing investors in the London-headquartered AP Ventures, which last year established a South African presence, include South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation, Anglo American Platinum, Toyota-linked Mirai Creation Fund, Mitsubishi Corporation, Plastic Omnium and the Sumitomo Corporation.

Implats, which has stated at top level that it would be doing a lot more to boost its ‘green’ company credentials, was recently recognised for its strong management of water security risk.

As quoted in an earlier report by Mining Weekly, Implats CEO Nico Muller has stated that within the next 6 to 12 months, Implats would hopefully begin announcing major renewable-energy and other green projects.

Implats corporate affairs executive Johan Theron said that having hydrogen piped to the company’s refinery site enhanced the company’s decarbonisation efforts and spoke of options to do more with the hydrogen.

Moreover, Sibiya revealed several months ago that the SEZ had begun to attract foreign manufacturers to South Africa to manufacture products that would help the world in its quest to decarbonise.

He let it be known at the time that Implats had hosted consultants engaged in an environmental-impact assessment and that the company was working in close partnership with the Gauteng Industrial Development Zone.

He said at the time that Implats was continuing to follow its fuel cell development roadmap and was continuing to support its partners, which included Hydrogen South Africa.