Delegates attending the workshop on fuel cell collaboration between South Africa and South Korea.
The CSIR, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Korean Institute of Energy Research and Kyungpook National University co-hosted a workshop on hydrogen fuel cells to strengthen research cooperation between South African and South Korea.
South Korea is investing significant resources in education and training for young people to get involved in science and several Korean research institutions have already hosted young South African researchers. South Africa wants to supply 25% of the global demand for catalysts for the Hydrogen (H2) fuel cell market by 2020.
According to Dr Mkhulu Mathe – who heads up the CSIR’s research in energy materials – the automotive world, where hydrogen fuel cells are mostly applied, currently does not look at South Africa as a potential supplier of components for these cells. “If the global market starts to look for alternative suppliers, which they will, we want to be able to show that we have great competency in producing value-added components for exports. Our advantage is that we have around 75% of the world’s platinum resources.”
Platinum is currently used in fuel cells as a catalyst. South Africa also has the need to increase the value of its platinum resource globally, and this would involve a transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge economy. Furthermore, according to the head of the Hydrogen Centre of Competence Infrastructure hub (HySA-Infrastructure), Dimitri Bessarabov, it is imperative that the world be decarbonised to counter global warming. One way in which to do so is to use hydrogen fuel cells, especially in the automotive arena.
“Cost and durability are the biggest challenges for automotive fuel cells. We need to improve current technologies to make these fuel cells a viable option for use in vehicles,” he noted.
One market highlighted as a possible first target for hydrogen fuel cells, is mining machinery. South Africa is a resourced-based economy. Besides platinum mining, the country currently gets up to 90% of its energy from coal – most of which is mined locally – and this trend will continue in the foreseeable future. Mining also creates thousands of jobs and uses an abundance of machines – all of which need battery power to operate. Certain mining locomotives that use hybrid fuel cell batteries are already in use elsewhere in the world.
Mathe believes that it is important to first demonstrate our locally developed technology to the world. “We must be seen to use our own technology and be happy with it, even if it is used first in something as simple as game driving vehicles or golf carts,” he says. “This point was also argued at the workshop, especially as some of the Korean delegates felt that South Africa should be looking at global markets, not local ones.”
Dr Mkhulu Mathe