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Future research, development and innovation (RDI) areas

The institute continuously identifies key strategic niche areas that must be developed in order to bring South Africa to the forefront position in advanced materials and processes for energy technologies. RDI intervention into these areas is carefully planned to achieve maximum impact with regard to (1) applicability of R&D results as tools of breaching the "innovation chasm" in short to medium term and (2) achieving strategic participation and leadership in new energy generation and storage scenarios of the long term international prospective.

Two strategically important technological drivers can be used as examples of the dual- goal strategic approach described above.

The first objective will be fulfilled by developing know-how and technologies in the area, which will become the enabler of the renewable and hydrogen energy of the future, namely Advanced Battery Technology (ABT). This technology will pave the way, both technologically and financially, for drastic widening of renewable energy penetration into stationary applications and the adoption of the electric drive and supporting infrastructure, which will eventually result in renewable and hydrogen based transportation solutions becoming commercially viable mainstream worldwide. The second objective will be met by a combination of research efforts, which will allow for eventual medium to large scale industrialisation of hydrogen generation, storage and utilisation technologies. Among those, membrane electrode assembly (MEA) manufacturing (including high throughput catalyst synthesis) can be regarded as critical path technology for the hydrogen economy.

Future RDI: HySA Systems 

MEA components and manufacturing

Based on recent breakthroughs reported by Strasser (2008) and Boennemann (2009) and SAIAMC prior expertise in catalyst synthesis, further development of PtCox catalysts will be attempted to ensure that their catalytic activity does not drop over prolonged time, combining both continuous and interrupted operation modes as required by Combined Heat and Power (C HP) fuel cell systems. Catalytic and structural properties will be characterised in-depth, aiming for a better understanding of the improved activity of base-metal-rich Pt containing nanoparticles. Chemical optimisation of the catalyst structure will be carried out in parallel with the selection of the most suitable supporting materials and electrode preparation methods. Different testing protocols will be developed to evaluate catalyst lifetime under conditions similar to those found in HTPEMFCs, specifically with regard to high acidity and variability of materials thermal expansion coefficients.

The ultimate goal of the work will be the development of prototype supported and unsupported catalyst materials suitable for pre-commercialisation feasibility studies and further up scale.

In order to improve the semi-industrial MEA preparation process where the catalyst ink is automatically printed by a jet head onto the membrane/substrate surface, the stability of the catalytic suspension and composition will be optimised towards low catalyst loading. Electrophoretic deposition (EPD) method will be explored as part of a continuous operation as it has the potential to reduce loading by several folds. During EPD, strong composition gradients are formed close to the coated membrane surface, which can influence the colloidal stability of nanocatalytic particles and their penetration and adherence to the membrane. These phenomena can have a considerable impact on the micro- and nanostructure of catalyst layers formed during MEA fabrication.

Stacks for PEM technology

The aim is to develop stacks for HTPEMFCs using locally produced components, particularly MEAs and bipolar plates. The R&D will focus on new efficient stack designs based on the various levels of modeling studies that are being carried out currently, including thermofluid modeling, numerical and equations based modeling, in order to improve efficient heat removal and uniform temperature distribution in the stack. Capacity regarding the machining of the bipolar plates of the required quality will be developed locally and up to 5kWe stacks with locally machined materials will be assembled and validated for international acceptance.

Systems for stationary applications

Currently a 2kWe combined heat and power system breadboard prototype with a HTPEMFC stack is commissioned and is validated with simulated reformate. Future work will entail the design of a second stage prototype and integrate a 2kWe CHP system with a commercial reformer and then with a locally developed reformer supplied by our collaborators at UCT. The focus will be to study the impact of the CHP operating conditions on the stack and MEAs and provide feedback to improve these components. The locally developed stack along with the reformer and suitable energy management system will be integrated and the prototype will be demonstrated for its efficiency and reliability.

Li-ion battery and supercapacitor

The high cost of producing large sized Li-ion cells of high quality locally will be the biggest challenge for the future South African Li-ion battery and EV industry. The RDI programme aims at the local production of high quality Li-ion cells at highly competitive cost through the use of South African raw materials. A 10-20 Ah Li-ion cell production and quality control facility will be developed where modules suitable for automotive battery packs and stationary applications will be manufactured on a pilot scale. This activity will act as one of the main R&D and training resources in Li-ion battery development, evaluation and manufacturing in this country and further render all-round support to the South African Li-ion battery and electric vehicle industries by providing direct access to Li-ion battery technologies and expertise.

Solid state hydrogen storage and related technologies

This RDI activity is aimed at the development of hydrogen storage and supply systems and will be focused on mobile applications, systems for their refueling with hydrogen, as well as novel light-weight hydrogen storage materials characterised by fast hydrogenation /dehydrogenation performance at mild conditions.

The system development will mainly include hydrogen storage and supply system for utility vehicle (forklift truck) based on "low-temperature" AB2-type intermetallic hydride. Improvement of H2 charge-discharge characteristics will be achieved by surface modification of the materials using minor amounts of PGMs, according to technologies previously developed by SAIAMC.

The new materials research and development will be focused on the preparation and advanced characterisation of hydrogen storage nanocomposites on the basis of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOF) and nanostructured complex magnesium hydrides.


All present and future RDI activities are confidential to the PSFIC as governed by the COD Project Intellectual Property Framework document signed by UWC and PetroSA. Thus the SAIAMC is not able to disclose any more details of PSFIC RDI activities other than those already described in section 3.1.2 above.

However, in general, future activities of the PSFIC will focus on the development of a robust highly selective and tuneable catalyst that will withstand poisons commonly found in refinery feedstock. Such a catalyst should display an activity that is at the least the same as that reported for the COD-9 catalyst. In this case, tuneable, refers to the ability of the catalyst to change its selectivity on demand. Also, other organic substrates that can readily be converted to olefins will be explored.

The current PSFIC project is to end in 2015 but discussions are already underway with PetroSA as to how ensure the continuation of the project with the SAIAMC as a vehicle for the commercialisation of the IP generated by the PSFIC from now until 2015.

Future RDI: Eskom thrust

Eskom is the industrial partner with the longest collaboration history with SAIAMC, and future RDI is based on the anticipated technological requirement of the national electricity producer is in line with the expertise of SAIAMC. SAIAMC repeatedly leverages industrial funding through successful applications to the Technology and Human Resource for Industry Programme (THRIP), which brings exceptional value from the original funding investment and increases the probability of continued funding.

H, exaction from UCG product gas

Based on the recent successes with the UCG pilot plant at Majuba performed by Eskom, it is expected that the production of UCG product gas will increase. SAIAMC has been tasked to develop and demonstrate a combination of technologies that allow for economic extraction of H2 from an air fuel UCG process. By 2013, a pilot plant comprising a desulphurisation unit, a H, selective membrane unit, a Pressure Swing Adsorption unit and a MH compressor unit will be installed and generating compressed H2from UCG.

Eskom Centre for Electrochemical Research

The ECER intends to position Eskom in the forefront of those organisations affording the opportunity to previously disadvantaged students to pursue post-graduate studies in the fields of scientific research. Combining the ambition for HCD with RDI, the ECER is focusing on electrochemically assisted emission control technology such as capacitive deionisation and membrane contactor electro dialysis.

Emission control technology   

Current energy generating infrastructure is dominated by coal fired power stations and coal will remain as the main source of electrical power generation for several decades. Whilst South Africa is increasing the renewable energy component of grid power, improved emission controlling technology is required to reduce harmful emissions currently emitted from coal fired power stations, abiding to ever more strict rules and regulations around air quality.

Membrane technology will play an important role in the future RDI. For SAIAMC to become a leader in membrane technology a top-down approach is followed through implementation of world class membrane modules in emission control in parallel with a bottom-up approach with the first hollow fibre membrane production unit being under construction.



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