(Published - 7 October 2019)
For 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.
“The HySA strategy came in three five-year phases,” explains Dr Sivakumar Pasupathi, who heads HySA Systems, based at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and has been involved in HySA since its inception.
“The first phase was to set up infrastructure and hire key personnel. The second phase was to demonstrate the technology in key sectors. And this third phase is to commercialise the technology through pilot scale demonstration of the reliability of these devices and cost reduction through mass manufacturing, and to increase the life-time of these devices.”
HySA is an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) that aims to create local capacity and knowledge that will lead to the development of value-add products in the hydrogen fuel cell technology (HFCT) sector for domestic and international markets.
The HySA programme is a government initiative towards a hydrogen economy in South Africa. HySA comprises three centres of competence – HySA Systems, HySA Infrastructure and HySA Catalysis, each with its own range of research and development, and led by experts in their respective fields. Through the HySA programme, public–private partnerships have been put in place to take the technologies to market, in support of service delivery through powering social infrastructure.
“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,” says Dr Pasupathi. “Hydrogen power is also a good use of our natural resources in South Africa. Platinum is used as a catalyst in hydrogen fuel cells (HFCs) - and South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s platinum reserves.”
Why (And How) Use Hydrogen Power?
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.
“To combat global warming and reduce pollution we need renewable energy sources such as solar and wind - but these are intermittent and are mostly not available when needed,” Dr Pasupathi says. “HFCs are the only devices which, through electrolysis of water, can store renewable hydrogen energy to be used when required by conversion through a fuel cell. More than that, it provides energy security.”
Dr Pasupathi highlights that the HFCT being developed at UWC includes demonstrating the ability of HFCT in real-life applications – such as South Africa’s first HFC golf cart, tricycle and scooter, and fuel cell component manufacturing line.
“Further milestones for HySA Systems include the first HFC forklift and hydrogen refueling station, as well as several educational prototypes,” he adds. “And happy news for a South Africa facing energy shortages, HySA is even testing a generator system at UWC’s Nature Reserve.”
So what’s next on the agenda?
“HySA Systems has completed the conversion of a fleet of scooters with HFC range extenders for the South African Post Office (SAPO),” notes Dr Pasupathi. “HySA Systems is also busy with a third-generation HFC Forklift in collaboration with Impala Platinum, and an HFC Unmanned Aerial Vehicle with a local partner.”
Want to know more about hydrogen fuel cell technology, and how HySA is using it to power energy transformation in South Africa and beyond? Head over to HySA Systems and find out for yourself.