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UWC hosts first international fuel cell conference in SA

CARISMA 2014: UWC hosts first international fuel cell conference in SA

From 1 to 3 December 2014, Cape Town saw a gathering of international experts in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies - CARISMA 2014, hosted by the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) HySA Systems, featured close to 100 presentations in a range of accents, with presenters hailing from Europe, the US, South America, Asia and Africa.

The conference, chaired by HySA Systems Director Prof Bruno G. Pollet and Programme Manager Dr Sivakumar Pasupathi, was the fourth in the CARISMA series of conferences held every two years to bring together research talent to address important hydrogen and fuel cell technology (HFCT) matters.

“The delegates are here to disseminate the latest work going on in the world in hydrogen fuel cells,” explained conference host, Prof Pollet. “This technology will have an enormous impact on all energy markets around the world.”

A fuel cell is a chemical device operating at various temperatures (up to 1,000?C) that transforms the chemical energy of a fuel (hydrogen, methanol, natural gas, etc) and an oxidant (air or pure oxygen) in the presence of a catalyst (e.g. platinum) into electricity, heat and water.  HFCT can potentially be tailored for use whenever needed, for stationary and portable uses as well as in transportation. Applications range from powering cell phones to cars and houses, to off-grid power supplies, back-up power, portable electronic devices and domestic and commercial energy needs.

HySA Systems and national/international partners such as Airbus have been responsible for introducing many HFCT innovations, including (among others) South Africa’s first locally-produced HFCT generator, first hydrogen-powered tricycle and scooter, its first fuel cell component manufacturing line, a first 2.5 kW fuel cell backup power system prototype for telecommunications markets, and a hydrogen-powered golf cart.

Speaking at the opening, Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science & Technology, listed five reasons why hosting the CARISMA 2014 conference was of vital importance for South Africa.

First, said Pandor, there was the privilege of staging the first in the CARISMA series to be held outside of Europe since the series kicked off in 2008. The second reason, added Pandor, was the opportunity for researchers in South Africa to build strong links with counterparts elsewhere in the world. That, thirdly, provides local researchers with a platform to compare notes with others. Then, fourthly, there’s the hope that international researchers will help South Africa to develop a strong industrial base in fuel cell technology.

And, finally, young South African researchers can tap into work done internationally, aiding the development of South Africa’s next generation of fuel cell scientists, and helping to forge stronger global partnerships.

“What we are seeking to build is a research and development platform that successfully promotes and supports innovation,” said Pandor. “We believe that collective efforts are necessary, within countries and between countries, to constantly renew and extend the culture of innovation.”

The conference also allowed the hosts to launch the South African Hydrogen Association (SAHA). Co-founded by Prof Pollet with Dr Dmitri Bessarabov of North-West University, and Gordon Freer of the Platinum Trust of South Africa, SAHA aims to get traditionally fractured groups from industry, academic and research institutions, laboratories, development councils and government departments to join forces and forge the road ahead for HFCT in South Africa, explained Pollet.

“We want to bring all the stakeholders into the same room to have discussions on what the fuel cell industry and South African energy landscape will look like in five or ten years,” he said. “Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies will have an enormous impact across all energy markets around the world. South Africa will be the catalyst for this revolution in sustainable technologies by providing first-class technologies, products and skilled researchers.”

“South Africa is beginning the difficult but important journey towards a hydrogen and fuel cell economy, and this conference is an important step in that direction,“  added Dr Pasupathi. “If a fuel cell is to happen anywhere in the world, it has to happen in South Africa.”