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South Africa’s Anglo American Platinum and Canada’s Ballard Power Systems are developing a fuel cell product that can aid with the supply of 230 volts of alternating current (AC) through a mini-grid
The fuel cell forms the core of a power system capable of supplying the electricity, which can be used to charge electronic devices, television sets, radio sets, electric lighting systems, refrigerators as well as cooking devices.
The product will be powered by liquid methanol fuel, and is expected to be an economically competitive alternative to extending grid transmission lines for rural communities that are located far away from the existing grid. In addition, the new technology will be cost-competitive with diesel generators and PV mini-grid systems for rural communities.
Institute for African Alternatives director and professor Ben Turok said, “The window of opportunity for fuel cells as an alternative technology for South Africa is now – grid capacity constraints, rising costs and long lead times for electrifying deep rural areas make non-grid fuel cell technology ideal. Over and above socio-economic benefits of access to power for rural upliftment, establishment of a local fuel cell industry develops new skills and creates jobs, in line with objectives of the National Development Plan.”
The fuel cell mini grid will offer significant advantages in low to medium density communities between 50 and 200 homes, which are more than 22 km away from the existing grid.
In addition, the upcoming project by the two companies will foster employment opportunities, such as a manufacturing unit.
Anglo American Platinum head of market development Kleantha Pillay stated, “The development and commercialisation of platinum-based fuel cell technology is also aimed at increasing the demand for platinum mined in South Africa, ensuring sustainable markets for the country’s metals.”