Hydrogen fuel cell technology brings power to rural school

Learners at Poelano Secondary School in Ventersdorp are not only experiencing first-hand the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology (HFCT), but are also learning about the technology itself.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, launched the R10 million renewable energy system on Friday, 13 April 2018. The 2,5 kW HFCT system, installed last month, has enabled the school's 486 pupils to have access to low-cost, off-grid, primary clean energy for ICT and lighting needs.

Fuel cells produce electricity through a chemical reaction, using hydrogen as the basic fuel and platinum-based catalysts. The system uses solar photovoltaic panels, which convert energy from the sun into electricity. Since water is needed to produce the hydrogen for the fuel cells, and there are water shortages in Poelano, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) installed a borehole to ensure the successful implementation of the project.  The school now has a reliable water supply as well as a reliable power supply. 

HFCT standby power solutions are efficient, safe and quiet, ensuring a non-intrusive standby and potentially primary power solution. The project also provides an opportunity to demonstrate to learners, teachers and the community that science can solve socio-economic problems in rural areas.

The project was implemented through the Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) Programme, a DST initiative promoting the use of local platinum group metal (PGM) resources to create knowledge and skills, and enabling the development of high-value commercial activities in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. 

South Africa is endowed with about 75% of global PGM reserves, located in North West and Limpopo, and there are various initiatives aimed at beneficiating the resources.

Minister Kubayi-Ngubane, who addressed Friday's launch, said the HySA Programme had huge potential for local manufacturing and mineral beneficiation.  The Minister said that the beneficiation of South Africa's natural resources was one way in which the country would be able to expand its industrial base, creating jobs and reducing poverty and inequality.

Friday's launch included an exhibition showcasing a wide variety of HFCT and solar energy products. Pupils from schools in the Ventersdorp area were able to learn about these alternative energy technologies, and had the opportunity to interact with the scientists involved in their development.  They also received information about the value of studying science, and were encouraged by the Minister to consider the many career opportunities offered by science.

Learners Tshegofatso Motaung and Mantshonyane Keleabetswe, both in Grade 12, welcomed the technology, as it ensured that the school always had power.

Mantshonyane thanked the DST for the project. "I have learned that science and technology can help bring innovation to communities and this project has made life easier for all of us," she said.

The Minister appealed to parents to protect the infrastructure that government had brought into the community for their children's benefit.

The Principal of Poelano Secondary School, Gerald Mhlanga, echoed the Minister's sentiments. "The most important thing for us is to make sure we maintain the project and benefit many generations to come," he said.

Issued by the Department of Science and Technology

For more information, contact Veronica Mohapeloa at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or 083 400 5750.


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