By Nthambeleni Gabara
. Johannesburg - The use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, combined with fuel cell technologies to produce energy, has attracted considerable interest from government.
This is according to the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Research, Development and Innovation Strategy (HFCT and RDI) which was launched by Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
Hydrogen and fuel cell technology promises a cleaner, more environment-friendly, oil-independent future.
Mr Mangena said South Africa had a significant competitive advantage in developing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
"We are endowed with considerable deposits of platinum which is a key catalytic material used in fuel cell and reformation technologies for the production of electricity and hydrogen, respectively," Mr Mangena said.
He said South Africa needed to therefore position itself as a significant player in the development of HFCT, which is part of the global agenda to integrate energy systems.
In May 2007, Cabinet approved the National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Research, Development and Innovation Strategy.
In South Africa, hydrogen is extensively used in the chemical and fuel-refining sectors and was produced mainly from non-renewable sources such as coal and natural gas.
The HFCT and RDI strategy aims to build sufficient capacity in research, development and innovation to supply 25 percent of the global hydrogen and fuel cell market's platinum group metals catalyst demand by 2020.
"Through the strategy, we aim to establish a base in hydrogen catalysis, hydrogen production and storage technologies, system integration and validation know-how to develop niche applications for the country's needs," he said, describing the launch of the HFCT as part of global move towards developing sustainable energy systems and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In an exclusive interview with BuaNews, Minister Mangena said the use of hydrogen was likely to expand significantly in future, driven by new cost-effective mobile and stationary applications and battery replacement.
"We've identified HFCT as one of the frontier initiatives which is to foster proactive innovation and create knowledge and human resource capacity for industrial development," he said.
Director General in the department, Phil Mjwara said it was clear that hydrogen will play a crucial role in a multi-fuel future, since it can be stored as part of the global move towards sustainable energy sources.
"The cost-effective production of hydrogen from renewable sources would extend the life of South Africa's coal reserves and reduce carbon emissions," he said.
He further said the proposed mechanisms for implementing the strategy will require a sizeable capital investment from government.
"Ensuring an adequate RDI and education in infrastructure and proper management will require an approximately R400 million over the period of three years," he said.
According to Mjwara, it is envisaged that 80 percent of the funding will be channelled towards technology and expertise development, while the remaining 20 percent will be used to stimulate private sector funding.
Also speaking at the event, Professor Vladimir Linkov said the growing international interest in HFCT was based on increasing concern about energy security, a cleaner environment and sustainable energy development.
He said economic competitiveness and wealth creation through new technologies are also important global objectives.
Dr Oystein Ullenberg from Norway said the transport sector was the primary focus in most countries in terms of new fuel supply and attraction systems.
He said most patent applications in the areas of hydrogen production and generation, hydrogen storage technologies and fuel cell catalyst technologies in the recent past came from the automotive industry.
"Toyota, Nissan Honda and Matsushita are major players in all three focus areas," he said.