“Hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to transform the country by adding value to its natural resources, improving socio-economic development, creating job opportunities and providing energy security,” said Dr Mykhaylo Lototskyy, Hydrogen Storage Materials and Systems Key Technology Specialist at HySA Systems - and an internationally renowned Lenin Komsomol Prize-winning researcher in the fields of Hydrogen Energy and Technology, hydrogen storage, material science and applications of metal hydrides. “And South Africa is a key player in the emerging hydrogen economy. Platinum is used as a catalyst in hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs) - and South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s platinum reserves.”
RCB Hydrides, under the direction of company CEO and founder, Dr Robert C. Bowman (Jr) - a world leading expert in the fundamentals and applications of metal hydrides. RCB Hydrides has previously delivered evaluation reports on similar projects funded by the US Department of Energy (US DoE).
This initial definition and organisation effort focused on a detailed technical review of progress to date regarding accomplishments and current activities using information and publications provided by HySA Systems, and a brief literature survey of publicly accessible information from the international hydride technology community.
As the benchmarking report noted: “It was determined that the status of both hydride materials and the prototype refueling stations based upon metal hydride compressors at HySA are well advanced and are at the forefront when compared to all international efforts. Hence, these HySA projects should lead to commercially viable systems in the future.
Metal hydrides are front runners in the storage process of hydrogen due to their superiorities concerned with cost, safety, handling, and capability of storage. Metal hydride fuel cells are able to chemically bond and store hydrogen within the fuel cell itself, and are prized for their ability to operate at low temperatures, their fast “cold start” properties and their ability to be recharged with electrical energy.
“HySA Systems carries out R&D in metal hydride materials and technologies in close collaboration with the leading world teams in the field (Europe, China, Russia),” said Dr Lototskyy. “Our success lies in the combined approach to the solution of numerous materials science and engineering problems which arise during developments of various applications of metal hydrides including compact and safe hydrogen storage and thermally-driven hydrogen compression.”
HySA Systems carefully aligns properties of various metal hydride materials (by variation of their compositions) towards maximum suitability to specification requirements of the target application (e.g, operating pressure – temperature ranges and productivity for the metal hydride compressors). This is followed by the in-depth studies of other related properties of the materials to yield original engineering solutions of their system integration (more than 10 South African and international patents pending and granted since 2009). The engineering solutions are implemented by HySA Systems in collaboration with its South African industrial partners.
”We have now entered into Phase 2, a comprehensive benchmarking analysis of our MH technology with detailed market analysis, which should inform us explicitly on our standing internationally,” noted HySA Systems Director Professor Sivakumar Pasupathi (pictured, right). “The second phase will be completed in the next eight months.”
Hydrogen Systems: Where To From Here?
For over 10 years, South Africa’s National Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Research, Development and Innovation Strategy, known as Hydrogen South Africa (HySA), has focused on building a research, development and innovation ecosystem for hydrogen power. Now it’s time for the final phase: taking those technologies to the people.
“In addition to South Africa’s dominant position in the mining and processing of Platinum Group Metals (PGMs), the country is also in the global top ten on the reserves, and can produce a number of metals which are important components of various metal hydride alloys, including titanium, vanadium, nickel, manganese, rare-earth metals,” said Dr Lototskyy. “Beneficiation of these mineral resources is a key driver for the development of new high tech industries for the manufacturing of metal hydride materials and environment-friendly systems realising metal hydride technologies.”
This technology can also be useful for dealing with South Africa’s ongoing energy crisis - particularly in the wake of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement regarding the hundredfold increase in permitted off-grid power production.
“Government and business structures in South Africa pay a significant attention to the increase of share of renewable energy (RE) in the total energy generation. RE is able to provide access to electricity in grid-off areas due to its suitability for off-grid and small-scale solutions. The main problem of such energy systems is in the availability of suitable energy storage technologies. Application of metal hydrides offers very efficient energy storage solutions on small and medium scale characterised by compactness, safety and flexibility in the system integration. Additionally, metal hydrides allow us to utilise waste heat - thus significantly improving the overall efficiency of the energy value chain.”
Hydrogen fuel cell technology is reliable, flexible, efficient, noiseless and environmentally-friendly. When hydrogen is burned, the waste product isn’t carbon dioxide, but good clean water. And HySA Systems is perfectly placed to provide it.
“The HySA Programme can significantly contribute to South Africa’s sustainable economic efforts by providing sustainable and clean energy through the use of fuel cells for stationary, portable and transport applications,” said HySA Director, Prof. Sivakumar Pasupathi. “HySA shows how South Africa can extract value from our mineral endowment through research, development and innovation - and use it to power a brighter future.”
Prof. Pasupathi will be discussing HySA’s progress at the 9th World Hydrogen Technologies Convention, held from 20-24 June 2021, where world leaders in HFCT will join innovative technologies and scientific research with international markets and business cases.
Want to know more about hydrogen fuel cell technology, and how HySA is using it to power energy transformation in South Africa and beyond? Visit HySA Systems.