Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, at the launch of the HYSA Infrastructure Centre of Competence, Northwest University, Potchefstroom

31 May 2013

cice Chancellor, Prof Herman van Schalkwyk
Deputy Vice Chancellor of North West University, Prof. Frikkie van Niekerk;
Members of North West University Management;
Members of the HySA Advisory Board;
Department of Science and Technology officials;
Distinguished guests.

It gives me great pleasure to be with you as we mark yet another milestone in the Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) programme, which we expect will make a valuable contribution to the goals of the New Growth Path and also the National Development Plan. The New Growth Path articulated the Government priorities of achieving economic growth, energy security and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The National Development Plan adds to these in its commitment to increasing research and development investment in the county.

To achieve these national goals we need to do several things, one of which is to build a national culture of innovation by working boldly to position ourselves as drivers of technological change and to stay ahead of the competition. Continued investment in R&D will help us to innovate, to create new products and services and improve on existing ones. This is the foundation that will boost our economy by promoting the creation of new enterprises, the extension of industry, the improvement of productivity, and the creation of employment opportunities.

It is also critical that government invest in human capital development and scientific research infrastructure in order to renew and extend the culture of innovation in South Africa. Adequate human capital and appropriate infrastructure are essential if hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are to cross the chasm often associated with early technology adoption.

In 2008 my department adopted the National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Research, Development and Innovation Strategy, which was later branded Hydrogen South Africa or HySA. One of the things that informed this strategy was the fact that South Africa possesses 75% of the world's reserves of platinum group metals (PGMs), a significant proportion of which are found in this province. It is envisaged that, with the blossoming "hydrogen economy", the demand for PGMs will increase substantially. As you know, PGM-based electro catalysts are an important component of most types of fuel cells.

We have to develop our capacity to exploit this advantage intelligently. 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.

As the DST, we believe that centres of competences are a key instrument in meeting this objective. As you will have heard, the HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence that we are launching here today aims to deliver technologies for renewable hydrogen production, storage and distribution.

The technologies for hydrogen production, storage and distribution infrastructure need to be cost effective, ensuring an optimal balance between safety, reliability, robustness, quality and functionality. Our long-term goal is for South Africa to become a significant supplier of material, components, products and subsystems for hydrogen-related applications. The key technologies pursued by HySA Infrastructure will focus on hydrogen storage materials;hydrogen reticulation and delivery; systems integration for hydrogen production and delivery; and platinum group metal recycling.

However, while these are our long-term goals, it pleases me to note that the efforts of our three Centres of Competence are already bearing fruit. Let me mention some of HySA's achievements:

The first proton exchange membrane fuel cell high temperature stack and bipolar plates in South Africa have been manufactured with local and key international manufacturers.

Collaboration between HySA Systems and Melex Electrovehicles has led to the development of a golf cart powered by a fuel cell unit, which has an extended range of 70km.

HySA Catalysis has collaborated to develop a catalyst with performance that is compares favourably to the commercially available standard. Validation and testing of the catalyst in collaboration with HySA Systems is currently under way.

It perhaps is also worth mentioning that the HySA programme has demonstrated advanced solid-state electrochemical hydrogen compression and separation technology using PGM catalysts, as well as the first South African-made key component (membrane electrode assembly) for these processes.

Furthermore, at the CSIR campus, HySA Infrastructure has managed to synthesise various metal organic framework structures for hydrogen storage. Other possible applications of metal organic frameworks are in gas purification and separation, in catalysis sensors.

To sustain this momentum, a number of strategic partnerships have been entered into. The DST is collaborating with the Department of Energy to include hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the Integrated Resource Plan. My department is also collaborating with the Department of Trade and Industry to facilitate the deployment of fuel cells. This partnership complements the recently formed interdepartmental fuel cell solutions task team and the steering committee on the special economic zone for platinum.

A memorandum of understanding has been concluded with the Kurchatov Institute, one Russia's leading research centres in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, to work on electrolyser component development and specifically address challenges around electrolyser component durability.

The University of the North West is working with Giner Electrochemical Systems, based in the United States of America, to develop water and sulphur-dioxide electrolysers. As part of this particular agreement, a patent was filed and NWU obtained 50% of the exploitation rights for the envisaged application in countries where the patent is expected to be valid, including China, Japan, India, the USA, the European Union, Brazil and South Africa. I am also told a non-disclosure agreement has been signed with the University of South Carolina for sulphur dioxide electrolyser work.

It is our firm belief that, through these and other collaborative initiatives, the HySA Infrastructure programme will continue to seek the most cost-effective and sustainable ways of producing clean hydrogen and accelerating the deployment of fuel cell technologies in South Africa. As I mentioned earlier, our interventions are aimed principally at responding to the global challenge of energy security and our own national goals of increasing economic growth in an environmentally sustainable manner. It is our wish to see both government and the private sector doing more to promote clean energy technologies and becoming early customers for such technologies.

I would therefore like to encourage the private sector, especially the mining houses operating in this province, to get involved in the work that HySA Infrastructure is doing. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the R2 million contribution that Anglo Platinum has already made to HySA Infrastructure. I hope that other companies will come on board to assist not only with the development of fuel cell technologies, but also with their deployment.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my privilege to officially launch the HySA infrastructure centre of competence.

Thank you.