Fuel cells power village in South African trial


    7 August 2014

    Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) has partnered with Canadian company Ballard Power Systems, state company Eskom and the Department of Energy on a field trial of a methanol-fuelled home generator system to light up the homes in a small village in rural South Africa.

    The 34 homes of Naledi Trust, a village in the Moqhaka Local Municipality in South Africa’s Free State province, will receive uninterrupted primary power via a prototype off-grid solution in a trial aimed at gauging the potential to of fuel-cell based systems to provide economical electric power to remote rural African households.

    “This field trial will provide valuable insight into the market requirements of off-grid communities,” Andrew Hinkly, Amplats’ executive head of marketing, said in a statement accompanying the launch of the trial on Tuesday.

    “The fuel cell product has significant market potential in South Africa and the rest of Africa. When commercialized, these products will provide an opportunity to create jobs in South Africa.”

    The system uses 5-kilowatt (kW) Ballard fuel cells run on methanol fuel, integrated by Amplats into a prototype off-grid solution that includes a battery bank and inverter operating within a micro-grid.

    The system is designed to provide a total of 15 kW of fuel cell-generated electric power, and can generate peak power of 70 kW with the support of batteries. Liquid methanol fuel will be delivered monthly to an external storage tank.

    Platinum-based fuel cells could provide a significant economic and environmental development opportunity for South Africa, opening the way for the provision of clean, reliable and cost-effective power.

    South Africa holds 75% of the world’s supply of platinum, a key component of Ballard’s proton exchange membrane fuel cell products.

    Last year, the South African government committed investment funding to support home generator field trials, reinforcing support for that country’s fuel cell industry.

    “A number of manufacturing and service jobs can be created from this initiative, providing an opportunity for export of value-added products to other emerging markets,” Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant said. “This will create a new technology sector in the country.

    “It also, significantly, supports the South African beneficiation strategy by creating additional platinum demand of up to 7 500 ounces over 15 years through the creation of a new market.”

    Running in conjunction with the 12-month field trial, Ballard will continue development work on a new lower-cost methanol fuel reformer and longer-life fuel cell stack for a commercial version of the home generator, under a product development agreement signed with Amplats in 2012.

    SAinfo reporter