In a bid to move off Eskom’s grid, platinum group metals producer Impala Platinum (Implats) will install an 8 MW fuel cell at its Impala Platinum Refinery.
Implats fuel cell co-ordinator Fahmida Smith, says it is a step forward in the miner’s move towards a carbon-neutral fuel source at the refinery.
“The 8MW project has been banked by Fieldstone and we expect to be at commercial operation by the first quarter of 2018.”
Smith says this is the first phase of the project. “We currently use between 18MW to 22MW of power.
“The second phase, consisting of 12MW, requires some form of environmental impact assessment (EIA) and is dependent on this process, which can take anything from six months to 18 months pending various criteria.”
How it works
The supplier of the technology, Doosan Fuel Cell America, explains that the fuel processor converts natural gas to hydrogen gas, which feeds the fuel cell stack. Hydrogen and air then combine in a process that produces direct current (DC) electricity, water (steam) and heat. Steam is used in the fuel processor for natural gas reformation.
“The DC power is conditioned to provide grid-interactive, high-quality alternating current (AC) power output,” explains Smith.
Springs Light Gas will supply natural gas to the refinery.
Fieldstone Africa MD Zahed Sibda, says the project will be funded on a “limited recourse finance basis” with financial close aimed at meeting the commercial operations by January 1 2018.
Smith admits that the cost of capital for the fuel cell is high at this point but, like other renewable energy forms, it’s coming down the cost curve. “Fuel cells are at a point solar was [at] about four years ago. The total cost of ownership based on our requirements and heat integration for the 8MW does show a decrease in energy cost to us over a 20-year PPA (power purchase agreement).
“With economies of scale the price of capital will decrease as was the case in solar PV (photovoltaics).”
Smith says Implats is looking at stationary fuel cells at its Springs refinery to take it off the grid as well as mobile applications (mining and material handling vehicles) in Rustenburg.
Implats previously said that the advantages of hydrogen fuel cell technology includes low to zero emissions, reliability, less noise, efficiency and flexibility. The fuel cells can be used for a variety of applications.
On March 31 2015 the Chamber of Mines launched the first 100kw commercial building base load platinum fuel cell using low pressure natural gas in Africa.
A year later, the chamber said the fuel cell industry had the potential to revolutionise the way power was delivered – from cars to mobile phones and computers, as well as to homes and workplaces.
According to Reuters, Africa’s first fuel cell component plant using platinum as a catalyst will start production by December, in either a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Johannesburg or in Durban.
Reuters states that the number of vehicles using fuel cells has grown rapidly as car-makers including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Daimler invest in technology to cut auto emissions. It quotes David Hart, director of Swiss-based sustainable energy consultancy, E4tech as saying that there could be 1.6 million fuel cell vehicles globally by 2030.
“By deploying fuel cells as a decentralised power generation, clean energy solution, [South Africa] could become the prototype for the future of energy production,” said Eric Strayer, vice president of international sales for Doosan.
Implats also sees the initiative as a stepping-stone to fast-track local fuel cell and componentry manufacturing in a proposed 16-hectare tributary of the SEZ in Springs.
“The project, in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Gauteng Industrial Development Zone and supported by the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, is a longer-term strategic investment to facilitate platinum beneficiation within South Africa,” says Implats.
“With respect to the SEZ a land feasibility study was completed at the end of 2016 and the technical feasibility study is in progress. We expect to go out on a formal RFP on the development of a prototype LHD by March 2017 (with the expectation that a prototype will be ready for testing a year later),” says Smith.
She adds: “The Impala Roadmap represents critical steps in support of the fuel cell industry, specifically for development of manufacturing capacity in South Africa, where the predominant supply of the critical platinum componentry is mined.”
On March 31 2016, when Implats revealed its prototype hydrogen fuel cell forklift and refuelling station at its Springs refinery, the miner said Southern Africa is home to around 80% of the world’s platinum resources and that there is massive potential for platinum-based fuel cells to drive economic development.
“The fuel cell industry has the potential to revolutionise the way power is delivered to all areas of our lives including cars, mobile phones, computers, homes and workplaces. The technology’s demand for the use of platinum provides additional avenues for beneficiation for Implats’ platinum group metals.
At that stage, Implats CEO Terence Goodlace had said: “As the world’s largest platinum-supplying region, there is a guaranteed supply of the metal as well as the potential to increase global platinum demand.”
Added to that, a PwC report from September 2016 shows that the global drive to reduce CO2 emissions in the automotive industry will support the demand for platinum group metals on the one hand but it could also reduce it on the other.
“While hydrogen fuel cell cars make use of platinum group metals, electric cars will not require autocatalysts. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic for new technology plays out regarding the automotive demand for platinum,” states the report.
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