Vehicle Projects Inc. (VP) of Golden, Colorado, USA, and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (Amplats) of Johannesburg, South Africa, are collaborating on a project to build five fuelcell mine locomotives to be demonstrated in mid-2012 at Amplats’s Dishaba underground mine in Limpopo province, South Africa.

The purpose of the innovative vehicles is to mine platinum in a more economical, energy-secure, and environmentally-benign manner. The locomotives will not require any electricity from the grid to function, and will not emit any noxious gases.

VP, as prime contractor, is executing engineering design, fabrication and testing of the fuelcell power plant and reversible metal hydride storage system in its state-of-the-art facility in Golden. VP’s hybrid fuelcell power plant employs Ballard proton-exchange membrane FCvelocity-9SSL V4 stacks and K2 Energy lithium-ion batteries. Continuous fuelcell net power is 17 kW, and together with the traction battery, maximum net power is 45 kW for approximately 10 minutes. The power plant will fit within a 0.1 m3 box, and the volume of the power plant plus battery is 0.5 m3. Low-temperature waste heat from the power plant is the source of energy to store, release and distribute hydrogen in the vehicle.

The VP-designed reversible metal-hydride storage unit provides hydrogen-dense, energy-efficient, ultra-safe storage of hydrogen for underground operations. It is designed to store 3.5 kg of hydrogen (50 kWh electrical out-put at the fuelcell) and be refueled underground from 20 bar hydrogen in 10 to 20 minutes. During refueling, either waste mine water or ambient mine air will cool the hydride bed. Operating hydrogen pressure is only 10 bar gauge. The storage unit will fit within a 0.3 m3 box.

The entire power-dense locomotive power module—fuelcells, batteries, hydride storage, cooling system and power electronics—requires only 1 m3 of volume. Upon completion of testing of the power module (expected in March – April 2012), the unit will be shipped to VP’s locomotive project partner Trident South Africa (Pty) Ltd. in Johannesburg for integration into a Trident 10-ton New Era locomotive. Integration, locomotive testing, and demonstration, initially at the Trident surface test track, will be assisted by VP’s project partner Battery Electric (Pty) Ltd. of Johannesburg.

Amplats is funding the project and will serve as the end user of the developed fuelcell mine locomotives. Amplats is a member of the Anglo American plc Group and is a leading primary producer of platinum group metals. Its platinum mining, smelting and refining operations are based in South Africa.

Vehicle Projects develops turnkey prototype fuelcell vehicles that solve problems of environmental quality or energy security. It is well-known for developing and demonstrating the world’s largest hydrogen-fuelcell land vehicle, a 130t railway locomotive.