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18 November 2014
HySA Fuel Cell Generator

HySA and DST power the future...with hydrogen

UWC’s Hydrogen South Africa Systems Centre of Competence (HySA Systems), in collaboration with South African power management and control electronics company Hot Platinum (Pty Ltd), have developed and tested a prototype Hydrogen Fuel Cell (HFC) power generator. The prototype was officially launched at a ceremony at the UWC Nature Reserve on 18 November 2014.

South Africa faces an energy crisis pertaining to energy generation and supply, with planned outages, blackouts, energy shortages, high energy tariffs, years of under-investment in power infrastructure and ‘’energy poverty’’ in low income households.  At the same time, increased demand for fossil fuels contributes to the impact of climate change on a global and local scale.

“This launch comes indeed at a critical point, a turning point for HySA and South Africa,” Professor Bruno G. Pollet, Director of HySA Systems Competence Centre at UWC, explained at the launch. “As we are all aware, South Africa - often seen as the “Powerhouse of Africa” - is facing major energy challenges. Decentralisation of energy by using hydrogen fuel cell systems is one of the few solutions allowing electricity access to communities efficiently and cost-effectively. By using hydrogen, green electrical power can be produced in remote areas and communities without efficient and effective access to the grid.”  

The HFC Power Generator provides continuous power to the UWC Nature Reserve building, and is the first such unit developed almost entirely in South Africa. The unit - tested and housed at the Reserve - illustrates an alternative energy solution for South Africa. The unit uses hydrogen to generate electrical power, with only water vapour as the by-product, which means that electricity can be produced in an environmentally friendly way, without pollution or noise.

The Director-General for the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Dr Phil Mjwara, keynote speaker at the launch, took the opportunity to highlight the critical role played by science, technology and innovation in ensuring the continued development of South Africa.

“We are currently facing a R60 billion deficit, of which 10-15% pertains to procuring technology products from abroad. We need to look at ways of reducing South Africa’s dependence on foreign goods. So I’m delighted that today we are officially launching this HFC power generator, that compares to anything available internationally, and shows how we can innovate here in South Africa, and that we are able to do more with less.”

“We hear a lot of talk about reducing our Carbon footprint in SA,” he continued. “But it’s initiatives like this that actually do something about it - and provide access to all and facilitate wealth creation as well.”

HySA Systems has been responsible for many breakthroughs in HFC technology, including introducing South Africa's first hydrogen-powered golf cart, as well as its first hydrogen-powered tricycle and first fuel cell backup power systems prototype for the telecommunications market.

"I am delighted to see the first HySA-developed pre-commercial HFC prototype in a field trial at UWC - and that appropriately at the Nature Reserve, greening the campus even more through a clean technology,” said Dr Sivakumar Pasupathi, HySA Systems Programme Manager. “Who knows? Maybe it can help UWC to win the greenest campus award yet again in 2015."

HySA has also secured partnerships with local and international private sector organisations, including a recent partnership with Airbus and the National Aerospace Centre aimed at understanding how hydrogen fuel cells could perform over an aircraft’s service life.

“South Africa’s aspiration is to build up to an “industrial revolution” incorporating the development of a “Green Economy” which could significantly boost the nation’s manufacturing base, in turn creating jobs,” concluded Prof Pollet. “Together with our local SMME, Hot Platinum, and the continuous and kind support of the Department of Science and Technology, we are now paving the way for a real Hydrogen Economy in South Africa!”