Impala Platinum (Implats) announced on March 31 plans to use fuel cells to provide energy at its platinum group metals refinery in Springs, South Africa, beginning in early 2016. The announcement accompanied the launch of Africa’s first 100-kW platinum fuel cell, which has been installed to provide power for the offices of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa.

Implats has partnered with Mitochondria Energy, a local business, to develop and deliver fuel cell solutions that provide sustainable economic returns at Implats operations. In the first phase of the project, Implats is installing cells using phosphoric acid fuel cell technology from Fuji Electric in Japan. These fuel cells will supply an initial 1.8 MW of power to the refinery in two tranches and will also produce heat that will be integrated into the operation. The chemical reaction within the fuel cells produces zero emissions except for clean water that can be utilized within the plant.

The second phase of the project will involve installation of a fuel cell facility producing up to 22 MW operating on natural gas and hydrogen that will enable the Implats refinery to realize its goal of separating itself from the national electricity grid.

In the future, Implats will also consider opportunities to deploy stationary power plants at its mines, with the ultimate goal of using fuel cells as the core energy source for its underground mining equipment. This could also provide an opportunity to enhance mine ventilation, reducing heat as well as noxious and sulphurous emissions.

Implats CEO Terence Goodlace commented, “This is a very exciting and timely initiative given the current power constraints in the country. Platinum fuel cells provide an effective alternative energy supply for mining and industrial companies in South Africa.”

Elsewhere in South Africa, Ballard Power Systems and Anglo American Platinum are conducting a 12-month field trial of a system based on liquid methanol fuel and fuel cells to provide power to a rural village that does not have access to the national grid. The field trial was launched in August 2014 and utilizes Ballard’s commercially proven 5-kW ElectraGen-ME fuel cell system, integrated by Anglo American Platinum into a complete prototype off-grid power generation solution, including a battery bank and inverter operating within a micro-grid.

The system is designed to provide a total of 15 kW of fuel cell-generated electric power and can generate peak power of 70 kW with the support of batteries. This configuration generates power for 34 rural homes in the Naledi Trust community. Monthly delivery of liquid methanol fuel to an external storage tank enables delivery of uninterrupted primary power to these homes.

The field trial is intended to validate technical and operating requirements of a home generator product for off-grid applications. Other important factors being assessed include the logistics of fuel delivery, rural consumer electricity usage patterns, and ongoing product maintenance requirements.