Locally-developed fuel cell powered bike launched in South Africa


The Ahi Fambeni hydrogen fuel cell-powered bicycle
South Africa on Thursday launched its “Ahi fambeni” (or “A hi Fambeni”) hydrogen fuel cell powered bicycle. 

The bicycle was designed by South African motorcycle designer Pierre Terblanche, who was design director for renowned Italian marque Ducati from 1997 to 2007 and now has his own design company and is a design consultant for the Piaggio group, across all their brands, which include Moto Guzzi and Vespa.

The frame of the Ahi Fambeni – the name means “let’s go” in the Tsonga language – is made from light and strong advanced materials, and it was built by students from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria.

E-bikes – that is, bicycles with electric motors – already exist in South Africa. What is special about the Ahi Fambeni is that its motor is not powered by a battery, but by a fuel cell.

“Hydrogen SA Systems developed the hydrogen storage technology,” for the bicycle, pointed out Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor at the launch of the Ahi Fambeni. “As space on the bike was limited, Hydrogen SA Systems had to innovate in customising the design of the hydrogen storage unit to increase heat-exchange efficiency.”

The new bicycle is intended to provide cheap powered transport for people living in rural villages.

However, it also serves as a proof of concept for Hydrogen SA Systems’ metal hydride technology.

This bicycle is one of the first fruits of the country’s Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) research and development programme, focused on the development of a hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cell production industry over the next decade or so. This would permit high value beneficiation of the country’s platinum group metals (PGM).

Last month, the Department of Science and Technology and its PGM beneficiation project partner, Anglo Platinum, signed an agreement with US company Altergy Systems Corporation, to establish a fuel cell manufacturing plant in South Africa.

The Ahi Fambeni project is intended as only the first step in a programme. It is planned to be followed by a hydrogen fuel cell powered tricycle and, ultimately, by a hydrogen fuel cell powered car.

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