South Africa's first prototype hydrogen fuel cell forklift and refuelling station was unveiled at Impala Refining Services in Springs today (31 March) in an exciting development that will boost South Africa's hydrogen fuel cell industry.

The prototype is a collaborative effort between the Department of Science and Technology through the HySA Systems Centre of Competence based at the University of the Western Cape and Impala Platinum (Implats) through its Impala Refineries in Springs.

Over the past three years Implats has provided HySA Systems with funds of R6 million to enable the prototype development. Implats plans to use hydrogen fuel cell technology as its main source of energy for material handling and underground mining equipment.

Speaking at the event, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, said that fuel cell technologies had the potential to provide access to affordable, safe, clean and reliable energy, which is necessary for broad-based economic development and growth in the country.

"While the fuel cell market is still in its infancy in South Africa, recent developments indicate a growing appetite for the technology," said the Minister.

Minister Pandor said South Africa had started to make a number of bold moves that could see it leapfrog into the leading countries in hydrogen fuel cell technology installations in the short to medium term.

She stated: "That's what we are here to make. A bold move. A forklift may appear to be a small move. But great industries have developed from small moves."

The Minister added that industry collaborations were critical in taking research outputs from the laboratory to the market.

"To promote further deployment of hydrogen fuel cell technologies, especially in the lucrative automotive sector, public-private partnerships are required to put in place the requisite infrastructure," she said.

In this regard, the alignment of fuel cell initiatives across government would be critical to stimulate the private sector funding necessary to create a viable hydrogen and fuel cell technologies industry cluster.

Implats CEO Terence Goodlace commented: "Developing a viable fuel cell industry in South Africa has several advantages for the country such as economic development, sustainable job creation and social good. As the world's largest platinum-supplying region there is a guaranteed supply of the metal as well as the potential to increase in global platinum demand. The development and implementation of this technology provides an  important opportunity for South Africa to play a role in reducing global greenhouse emissions, thus diminishing urban pollutants and contributing to reduced health care costs and an improved quality of life."

The benefits of the metal hydride technology include much longer operational times between refuelling, contributing to a significant increase in productivity.  In contrast, diesel and electric-powered forklifts are refuelled daily, affecting productivity negatively.  The onboard metal hydride storage also allows for the forklift to operate at a low pressure (180 bar), which increases safety, as opposed to most fuel cell vehicles, which operate at 350 bar, requiring a high pressure hydrogen compressor.  Typically, these compressors have challenges with high service costs, safety and reliability.

Dr Cordellia Sita, Director of HySA Systems, said: "Fuel cell-powered forklifts are gaining significant traction worldwide, and are now entering mainstream commercialisation.  However, the limited availabilityof refuelling infrastructure, coupled with the challenge of finding the most appropriate on-board hydrogen storage technology, remains a big challenge. Through this demonstration project, HySA Systems has addressed both challenges through the use of a novel metal hydride material for both hydrogen compression and storage."

Issued by the Department of Science and Technology.

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