Just outside of Springs, at the Impala Refining Services yesterday, a three year project focused on the development of hydrogen fuel cells and a hydrogen refuelling station was unveiled to the public.

The project, which saw a collaboration between Impala Platinum Refineries, Hydrogen South Africa Systems, the University of the Western Cape and the Department of Science and Technology, cost R12 million to complete.

The fuelling station itself cost R2 million which is rather cheap when you consider some fuelling stations cost €500 000 (R8 383 069,71). Commendations must go to Hydrogen SA for making this feat possible.

And while R12 million seems like a lot of money for one forklift and a refuelling station, Minster of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, put the cost into perspective at the unveiling.

“The country spends close to R1-billion on energy research and development each year amounting to just over four percent of our gross expenditure,” remarked Pandor before explaining that this pioneering work that is being done for what could one day be the fuel of the future.

Aside from the companies involved in the development of the technology, Impala Platinum has said that the project will draw on local suppliers including; Hot Platinum, TF Designs, Air Products and Sasol.

Unlike petroleum based fuels, hydrogen fuel cells use electro-chemical processes to generate power rather than combustion. The result of this is that less noise, heat and harmful emissions.

Of course a forklift in a mine is not the only use for hydrogen fuel-cells. The potential exists for the technology to power cars, smartphones and even your home.

Director of Hydrogen South Africa Systems, Dr Cordelia Sita, spoke about hydrogen fuel cells in a statement saying, “fuel cell-powered forklifts are gaining significant traction world-wide and are now entering mainstream commercialisation.”

But there are still problems that Hydrogen SA had to overcome according to Sita. “The limited availability of refuelling infrastructure, coupled with the challenge of finding the most appropriate onboard 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,” said the Director in a statement.

The completion of the project marks a step forward for South Africa’s energy sector and we aren’t the only ones who are excited by this news, Minister Pandor is as well, who said, “this initiative has taken several years and as government we need to support companies who have the knowledge and together with private business we will become global leaders in such innovations.”

[Source – Impala Platinum] [Image – UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences]