Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) the world’s largest primary producer of platinum, and Ballard Power Systems launched the world’s first fuel cell mini-grid electrification field trial in Free State, South Africa.
The system is being trialled as a provider of electricity to remote communities where the cost of electrification via an expansion of the national grid may be cost or technically prohibitive.
Power rural community
This configuration will power the 34 homes in the Naledi Trust rural community. Amplats says that monthly delivery of liquid methanol fuel to an external storage tank enables uninterrupted primary power to these homes. “When commercialised, these products will provide an opportunity to create jobs in South Africa – designing fit-for-purpose power systems, manufacturing and assembly, installation, operation, maintenance and fuel supply jobs as examples. We see this vision being very much in line with the objectives of the National Development Plan,” says Anglo American Platinum’s Executive head of marketing Andrew Hinkly.
Partnership with Eskom
Amplats and Ballard partnered with Eskom and South Africa’s Department of Energy to conduct the 12-month trial in the rural community of Naledi Trust, which is part of the Moqhaka Local Municipality in the southern part of the Fezile Dabi District of the Free State Province of South Africa. The 34-household community will be powered using a fuel cell prototype product developed for use in off-grid residential application and will be fuelled with methanol.
Fuel cell technology
The trial utilises commercially proven five kilowatt (kW) ElectraGen fuel cell system developed by Ballard Power Systems. The system is integrated by local engineering suppliers into a complete prototype off-grid solution, including a battery bank and inverter operating within a micro-grid, and is designed to provide a total of 15 kW of fuel cell-generated electric power and can generate peak power of 70 kW with the support of batteries.
Supports beneficiation strategy
Godfrey Oliphant, Department of Mineral Resources’ Deputy Minister says the fuel cell system will create a new technology sector in the country. “It also, significantly supports the South African Beneficiation Strategy by creating additional platinum demand of up to 7,500oz over 15 years through the creation of a new market,” says Oliphant.
Clean and cost-effective
Platinum-based fuel cells provide significant economic and environmental development opportunities for South Africa by facilitating the provision of clean, reliable and cost-effective power. In parallel with the 12-month field trial, ongoing development work at Ballard will continue on a new lower cost methanol fuel reformer and longer life fuel cell stack for a commercial version of the home generator, funded by Amplats.