South Africa and Japan could enrich their cooperation in the field of hydrogen fuel cell technology as the countries share commonalities in this regard.The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, accompanied Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to Japan this week.

During the visit Minister Pandor held several engagements with Japanese stakeholders, including a round table meeting with academic institutions and a Symposium on the Hydrogen Economy. During the Minister's round table meeting discussion, she highlighted the human capital initiatives of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), namely the South African Research Chairs Initiative and the South African Postdoctoral Fellowships Initiative.

South Africa has a shortage of skills, while Japan has an abundance of skills; this creates opportunities for collaboration between the two countries. Both countries also recognise the importance of science, technology and innovation for economic growth, as well as the need to address challenges such as health and food and energy security, especially in the wake of global challenges such as climate site2016. The countries also value the relevance and the role of science and technology in making an impact on society.

Hydrogen and fuel cell technology presents a niche area for collaboration between the two countries. Hydrogen and fuel cell technology hold the promise of a cleaner, more environmentally friendly and oil-independent future. While Japan had already started to create a hydrogen economy, the "triple disaster" that devastated Japan in 2011 rapidly accelerated research in this field. Japan is currently a leader in cutting-edge hydrogen technology and holds the largest share of patents in this field. South Africa, on the other hand, has a significant competitive advantage in developing hydrogen and fuel cell technology, as it is endowed with considerable deposits of platinum, which is a key catalytic material used in fuel cells.

As part of the global agenda to integrate energy systems, South Africa has positioned itself as a significant player in developing these technologies. Against this backdrop, the developmental stages of South Africa and Japan are different. Despite the differences in the systems, there are niche areas where collaboration could be enriched, especially in the field of hydrogen and fuel cells.

During the Minister's address to the Symposium on the Hydrogen Economy, she said there was a global movement towards developing sustainable energy systems and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "For this reason, the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, combined with fuel cell technology, has attracted considerable interest from governments, international bodies and commercial companies worldwide," said Minister Pandor.

Hydrogen, electrolyser and fuel cell combinations offer a viable and cost-effective method of storing energy on a large scale, especially in instances where the energy is generated during times of low demand. When used as feedstock for fuel cells, hydrogen produces electricity at a high efficiency – with zero emissions – even for applications such as road vehicles and electricity markets. Globally, a number of companies are developing megawatt-scale proton-exsite2016 membrane electrolysers to improve energy-storage applications.

In South Africa, the Department of Minerals and Energy projects that 40 Gw of new energy generation capacity should be in place by 2030, of which 42% will be derived from renewable energy sources. Of this renewable energy generation, 1Gw is expected to be concentrated solar power, which uses thermal storage, and approximately 17 Gw will be a combination of wind and other renewable energy options, mostly photovoltaic systems.

"This creates an opportunity for local energy storage that could play a significant role in on-grid and off-grid applications. In this regard, energy is the critical area that needs to be consolidated and strengthened in terms of security of supply and access, as well as for environmental protection," said Minister Pandor.

She added that South Africa needed to reduce its dependence on imported oil and increase the percentage of alternative energy sources in the energy mix. For broad-based economic development to take place in the country, access to affordable, safe, clean and reliable energy is crucial.

The Minister and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa also test drove motor vehicles making use of hydrogen and fuel cell technology.