South Africa – Impala Platinum (Implats) has announced that it would embark on a project, which will see it establish a 1.8MW hydrogen-fed fuel cell power solution, to provide energy from early 2016 at its platinum group metals refinery in Springs, east of Johannesburg.

The announcement was made by Implats CEO Terence Goodlace on Tuesday evening at the unveiling of South Africa’s first base load platinum fuel cell run on natural gas, which will be used to power the Chamber of Mines of South Africas office block in the Johannesburg CBD.

The unveiling of South Africa’s first base load platinum fuel cell at the Chamber of Mines of South Africa
The unveiling of South Africa’s first base load platinum fuel cell at the Chamber of Mines of South Africa

The Implats project, planned to start in the second quarter this year, will be the largest single site installation of hydrogen fuel cells in the Southern Hemisphere, said Goodlace, adding that it will rapidly be followed with the execution of a larger installation at the refineries with the ultimate goal of moving its refineries off-grid.

The fuel cells, which will operate off excess hydrogen piped in for the metal reduction process, will supply an initial 1.8MW of power in two tranches and will also produce heat that will be integrated into the operation.

Implats has partnered with Mitochondria Energy – the local energy business responsible for the installation at the Chamber of Mines - the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and Fuji Electric – its equipment supplier – to develop and deliver the first phase of fuel cell solutions.

The second phase of the project will involve the installation of a fuel cell facility producing up to 22MW operating on natural gas and hydrogen that will enable Implats’ refinery to realise its aim of operating off the national electricity grid.

In the future, Implats will also consider opportunities to deploy stationary power plants with the ultimate aim of using fuel cells as the core energy source for its underground mining equipment. This could also provide an opportunity to significantly enhance mine ventilation requirements, reduce heat as well as noxious and sulphurous emissions.

Implats, which is the world’s second largest platinum producer, continues to play a critical role in the development of markets for platinum fuel cells and intends using fuel cells going forward for stationary power at its refineries.

Goodlace, says this is a very exciting and timely initiative given the current power constraints in the country. In light of this, platinum fuel cells provide an effective alternative energy supply for mining and industrial companies in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Implats are working with the DTI and international technology partners to understand the potential of downstream beneficiation in the market.

Goodlace says Implats has focused on partnering with solution providers for the integration of commercially-available fuel cells into practical applications.

He adds that this will reduce the average cost of electricity consumption in the longer term as well as provide emergency back-up power. Hybrid solutions involving a combination of fuel cells and renewable energy are also being considered.

At the event, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies commented, “The need for a strong collaboration between the private and public sectors is critical to maximise the success of this fuel cell initiative and ensure its widespread use. Together with the IDC, we are also currently assessing the establishment of special and dedicated manufacturing hubs in the various Industrial Development Zones to ensure that this technology is harnessed."

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