SA firm to build high-quality components for hydrogen fuel cell industry

13 April 2016

SA is a step closer to realising the full potential of its enormous platinum reserves with the launch of a spin-off company, HyPlat, which will be based at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The company is able to manufacture high-quality components for the international hydrogen fuel cell industry.


Platinum spin-off company launched at UCT

Dr Makhapa Makhafola, the general manager of research and development at Mintek, Dr Sharon Blair, the director of HySA/Catalysis at UCT and CEO of HyPlat and Piet Barnard, director of Research Contracts & Intellectual Property Services (RCIPS) at UCT.


Hydrogen fuel cells are seen as a source of clean energy that can be used to provide off-the-grid power to rural schools and hospitals, or to provide backup power for telecommunication and data centres, among other uses.

A key component of these cells is platinum, a mineral resource that SA has in abundance, but which the country generally exports unprocessed or at best, semiprocessed.

This is set to change with the commercialisation of technology developed at UCT and at Mintek in Randburg under the auspices of HySA/Catalysis.

HySA/Catalysis was set up as one of three centres of competence by Hydrogen SA (HySA), a flagship project of the Department of Science and Technology.

HySA has set itself an ambitious target of becoming a major player in the sale of fuel cell materials and components by 2020, while an academic goal is to develop a knowledge pool of highly skilled local scientists and engineers equipped to work in the sector.

The new spin-off company, HyPlat, will produce catalysts, membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) and advanced components needed for fuel cells. The company says the objective is to bring these to market and to develop a sustainable supply chain.

"Using world-class materials we are able to produce a cost-competitive MEA (that) is manufactured using world-class manufacturing processes and technology," said HyPlat’s business development manager, Rainer Wellmanns.

He said each order would be custom-made, so that the customer’s specifications in terms of both performance and cost could be met.

Later this year, HyPlat will have the capacity to produce 36 000 units of MEAs per year, depending on orders placed.


Close-up of hydrogen fuel cell

Close-up of hydrogen fuel cell.


Sharon Blair, the director of HySA/Catalysis at UCT and CEO of HyPlat, said the key to the agreement was that Mintek and UCT would provide HyPlat with complete access to all of the technologies that have been developed.

"HyPlat’s sole mandate will be to commercialise the technologies as soon as possible. This is a milestone in that it shows that the (Department of Science and Technology) is starting to reap the rewards of investing in research and development so as to position SA as a main player in the fuel cell sector," said Dr Blair.

"We will also be working with other government organisations and companies across SA to demonstrate how the beneficiation of platinum can move the country up the value chain," she said.

Makhapa Makhafola, the general manager of research and development at Mintek, said: "Mintek is delighted to be part of the HySA programme and is extremely pleased that platinum fuel catalyst technology developed at Mintek is on a firm path to commercialisation. The effort illustrates our commitment to addressing the government’s strategy of increasing local minerals beneficiation and building a knowledge-based economy."


Written by Bekezela Phakathi for Business Day. Republished with kind permission. (Group photo by Mary Hilton. Close-up of fuel cell by Michael Hammond.)