The South African government, with the private sector, set up Clean Energy Investments, a new company aiming to tap into the country’s rich platinum reserves while the fuel cell market which demands much of the metal grows in sub-Saharan Africa.
The government-business partnership includes the Department of Science and Technology, mining giant Anglo Platinum and California-based fuel cell developer Altergy Systems.
The company forms as South Africa’s strategy to develop its hydrogen manufacturing capabilities and capitalize on its national resources, particularly platinum, moves on.
Platinum is among the rarest and costliest of metals, prized because of its unique chemical characteristics. But for the automotive industry, among others, it acts as catalyst in fuel cell cars.
Platinum is used in fuel cells as a catalyst, a substance that affects a chemical reaction, for the conversion of hydrogen into electricity.
South Africa holds 75 percent of the world’s platinum reserves. Anglo Platinum is the world’s largest producer of platinum, making up 40 percent of the world’s mined supply.
As part of the deal, Clean Energy Investments will establish a distribution network for Altergy’s fuel cell products throughout the region. If successful, this will lead to a fuel cell manufacturing and assembly plant inSouth Africa under license from Altergy.
“Africa is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. The telecommunications market is exploding across the continent. The need for electrical power in all sectors of the economy is growing exponentially,” said Eric Mettler, Altergy’s president.
“As the need for abundant, clean, low-cost power grows, and society’s focus on environmental protection is increasing, many governments are turning to the use of hydrogen as a carrier of energy, and fuel cells as a source of electricity, added Mr. Mettler.
World demand for platinum used as catalysts dropped 39 percent in 2009, the lowest in at least five years as vehicle sales tumbled due to the global economic crisis, according to Johnson Matthey P.L.C. However, the analyst expects demand to strengthen as global car production recovers this year and again in 2011.
Altergy’s fuel cells have been used in telecommunications to provide backup power at cell sites as an alternative to battery systems or diesel generators.