of the first fuel cell-
locomotive]Johannesburg, South Africa --- 11 May 2012 - Anglo American Platinum â€’ the world's top producer of the precious metal â€’ has launched what is said to be the first fuel cell-powered mining locomotive, showing the technology's potential as a clean energy source.
Reuters reports that the prototype â€’ quiet, blue in colour and with the sharp angles of a Lego toy â€’ is one of five fuel cell locomotives that will be tested for underground use at one of Amplats' mines.
Amplats' interest in fuel cells lies in their potential to boost demand for platinum, used as a catalyst in the cells. Some 1.5oz (42g) of the precious metal were used in the prototype locomotive, one of the partners in the project said.
A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and heat.
“Hydrogen fuel cell locomotives are more economical and environmentally friendly than other forms of rail transport,” said Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll at the launch. Anglo owns 80% of its platinum unit.
“They are more energy efficient, they don't require electricity from the grid, and they will not emit any noxious gases,” she added.
Fuel cells are seen as a suitable technology for Africa where millions of people still have no access to electricity and where governments are seeking to cut their reliance on coal-fired power plants that produce greenhouse gases.
Amplats is developing other projects to show how fuel cells can be used, including in housing and the telecoms industry. The projects are in line with the government's push to have more of South Africa's minerals processed at home and to develop manufacturing.
South Africa holds more than three quarters of the world's platinum group metals reserves and is aiming to supply 25% of the future global fuel cell market by 2020.
The locomotive project was developed in collaboration with Vehicle Projects, Trident South Africa and Battery Electric.
“Within five years it should be possible to commercialise the fuel cell technology,” said Amplats head of market development and research Anthea Bath.
Given the high upfront capital needs subsidies would be required to get many projects off the ground, experts said. Due to their low maintenance costs, fuel cells are seen as cost competitive once they are up and running.
Amplats' peer Impala Platinum is also studying options for using fuel cells in industrial applications.