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HySA Infrastructure: producing and using hydrogen for energy in South Africa – Part 1

Steve Barrett – Editor, Fuel Cells Bulletin

The Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) strategy aims to take better advantage of the country’s huge platinum group metal (PGM) resources, i.e. PGM beneficiation. Part 1 of this article is an overview of the HySA strategy, which comprises three Centres of Competence: HySA Catalysis, HySA Systems, and HySA Infrastructure.

This article is taken from the June 2013 issue of the Fuel Cells Bulletin newsletter – check out the sample Digital Edition.

Strategic hydrogen drivers in South Africa

The primary focus for the establishment of the National Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technologies Research, Development and Innovation Strategy in South Africa is the beneficiation of abundant natural resources.

Beneficiation is where a producer of raw materials adds value by turning them into a more finished product, in this case moving South Africa from producing platinum ore and refined metal to manufacturing fuel cell catalysts or even components and systems.

Other strategic drivers include the environment, energy security, market opportunities, and human capital development including an improved skills base.

The competitive advantages that South Africa could leverage to commence a focused research and innovation effort in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies include its platinum group metal (PGM) resources, large coal reserves, abundant solar energy, and a policy environment that promotes natural resources beneficiation and manufacturing initiatives.

The strategy envisages an eventual deliverable target whereby South Africa will supply 25% of the global demand for fuel cell catalysts by 2020, which will leverage the value of its estimated 80% share of global PGM reserves.

‘We have to develop our capacity to exploit this advantage intelligently,’ says Derek Hanekom, the South African Minister of Science & Technology, who inaugurated the HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence at the end of May.

Hanekom continues: ‘The HySA strategy deliberately strives to use local resources to create critical knowledge and human resource capacity, which will enable the development of high-value commercial activities in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.’

National strategy for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies: HySA

The government’s Ten-Year Innovation Plan for South Africa, published by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) in 2008, identified a number of key challenges. These include achieving a 25% share of the global hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell market with novel PGM catalysts, and the pilot-scale demonstration of hydrogen production through renewable energy sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic energy.

The National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies R&D and Innovation Strategy – approved by DST in 2007, then branded in 2008 as Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) – is a long-term programme, comprising three five-year stages.

The Strategy set a number of goals:

  • Establish a base for hydrogen production, storage technologies and processes.
  • Establish a base for developing catalysts based on PGM resources.
  • Build on existing global knowledge to develop know-how to leapfrog existing fuel cell technologies for niche applications, to address regional developmental challenges.

More specifically, HySA strategic goals include:

  • Develop local, cost-competitive hydrogen generation solutions based on renewable resources.
  • Create wealth through value-added manufacturing of PGM catalysts, i.e. supply 25% of PGM catalyst global demand by 2020.
  • Promote equity and inclusion in the economic benefits of South Africa’s resources, with SMEs (small and medium enterprises) playing an important role.

Three HySA Centres of Competence

In an effort to increase the scale of research, development and innovation while bringing together complementary expertise towards achieving the goals of the national strategy, the DST has established Centres of Competence (CoC) in the three main focus areas: catalysis, systems, and hydrogen infrastructure.

Each centre has a unique responsibility, but all share the convergent vision of fostering proactive innovation and developing the human resources required to undertake competitive R&D activities in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies:

  • HySA Catalysis is co-hosted by the University of Cape Town and Mintek, the national R&D organisation for mineral processing. Its Director is Dr Olaf Conrad, who was previously with the NEXT ENERGY technology research centre in Germany, and CMR Fuel Cells in the UK.
  • HySA Systems Integration & Technology Validation is hosted by the University of the Western Cape, near Cape Town. Its Director is Professor Bruno Pollet, previously with the University of Birmingham in the UK.
  • HySA Infrastructure is co-hosted by North-West University in Potchefstroom and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria. Its Director is Dr Dmitri Bessarabov, previously with Kvaerner Chemetics, Ballard Power Systems and then AFCC Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation in Canada.

HySA is managed by the DST team: Dr Cordellia Sita, Chief Director of Hydrogen and Energy; Dr Cosmas Chiteme, Director of Alternative Energy; and Ms Mandy Nompumelelo Mtyelwa, Deputy Director of Hydrogen and Energy.

‘The DST is collaborating with the Department of Energy to include hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the Integrated Resource Plan,’ says DST minister Hanekom.

‘My department is also collaborating with the Department of Trade & Industry to facilitate the deployment of fuel cells,’ he continues. ‘This partnership complements the recently formed interdepartmental fuel cell solutions task team and the steering committee on the special economic zone for platinum.’

The Platinum Valley Hub or Special Economic Zone

The SA Department of Trade & Industry is currently considering the establishment of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that would attract additional industry investment to add value to the country’s PGM resources.

The overriding aims of the SEZ initiative – which anticipates a total of 10 zones in various industry sectors – will be to contribute towards strengthening South Africa’s terms of trade through the export of value-added commodities, the creation of stronger value chains, and the provision of much-needed jobs in previously disadvantaged regions.

This initiative – which is supported by the Department of Science & Technology and the Department of Mineral Resources – aims to create a ‘Platinum Valley’ that would significantly boost the nation’s PGM beneficiation goals, mimicking what Silicon Valley has done for the high-tech sector in California.

The Platinum Valley Hub could be located in the North West province, where much of the existing PGM mining is already found, or it could take the form of an industrial corridor between North West and Limpopo provinces. The SEZ framework is currently working its way through parliament, with a pre-feasibility study planned for this summer.

Key programmes at the HySA Centres of Competence

To achieve the HySA strategy objectives, the three HySA Centres of Competence will form a national network of research ‘hubs’ and ‘spokes’, through collaboration with institutions and partners from the R&D sector, higher education, as well as industry.

The criteria used for selecting the preferred projects include alignment with the DST strategy and alignment with the business plans proposed by the two other HySA centres.

Other criteria include: early industrial interest and potential for commercial application; the opportunity to leverage local technologies; synergy with international initiatives; the opportunity for economic development; knowledge production and human resource development; synergy between projects; and the opportunity for spin-off technologies and local product, business and technology development.

HySA Catalysis is responsible for portable power development (KP2), while HySA Systems is responsible for the combined heat and power (CHP) programme (KP1) and for hydrogen fuelled utility vehicles (KP3).

HySA Infrastructure is responsible for the hydrogen fuelling and storage options programme (KP4), hydrogen production from renewable energy (KP5), as well as distribution, safety, and codes & standards (also KP4).

There are other active projects across the HySA Infrastructure activities that are complementary to the key programmes, such as SO2 electrocatalyst oxidation development, PGM recycling etc.

KP5 contains technology bundles for renewable hydrogen production. It will address the need for small-scale fuel cell applications such as portable, small-scale power backup, and household fuelling stations for individual mobility applications, as well as medium-scale hydrogen production. It will address the needs of medium-scale fuel cell applications for sustainable mobility, materials handling, and backup power solutions.


This article was written with significant assistance from Dr Dmitri Bessarabov, Director of HySA Infrastructure, and his colleagues while on a visit to Potchefstroom for the official opening of the HySA Infrastructure facilities at the end of May.

The sources for this article include Dr Bessarabov’s presentation at the 19th World Hydrogen Energy Conference in June 2012 in Toronto, as well as HySA Infrastructure documents and other presentations.

In Part 2: The HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence.

In Part 3: HySA Infrastructure research projects.

Technical contact:

Dr Dmitri Bessarabov, Director – HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence

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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Green building  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity