Implats refinery to use fuel cells

Impala Platinum Holdings has announced further plans to use fuel cells to provide energy at its platinum group metals refinery in Springs, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, from early 2016
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The second phase of the project should enable Implats’ refinery to operate off the national electricity grid

Ailbhe Goodbody

Terence Goodlace, CEO of Implats, said that this is a very exciting and timely initiative given the current power constraints in the country. Platinum fuel cells could provide an effective alternative energy supply for mining and industrial companies in South Africa.

The company has partnered with Mitochondria Energy, a local business, to develop and deliver fuel cell solutions which provide sustainable economic returns. The first phase of the project will see the mining company installing cells using phosphoric acid fuel cell technology from Fuji Electric in Japan. The fuel cells will operate off excess hydrogen piped in for the metal reduction process. The fuel cells will supply an initial 1.8MW of power in two tranches and will also produce heat that will be integrated into the operation. The chemical reaction by the fuel cells produces zero emissions, except for clean water that can be utilised within the plant.

The second phase of the project will involve the installation of a fuel cell facility operating on natural gas and hydrogen and producing up to 22MW that will enable Implats’ refinery to realise its aim of operating off the national electricity grid.

In the future, Implats will also consider opportunities to deploy stationary power plants with the ultimate aim of using fuel cells as the core energy source for its underground mining equipment. This could also provide an opportunity to significantly enhance mine ventilation requirements, reduce heat as well as noxious and sulphurous emissions. Implats is working with the Department of Trade and Industry and international technology partners to understand the potential of downstream beneficiation in the market.

Goodlace stated that Implats has focused on partnering with solution providers for the integration of commercially-available fuel cells into practical applications. He added that this will reduce the average cost of electricity consumption in the longer term as well as providing emergency back-up power. Hybrid solutions involving a combination of fuel cells and renewable energy are also being considered.

Minister Rob Davies commented: “The need for a strong collaboration between the private and public sectors is critical to maximise the success of this fuel cell initiative and ensure its widespread use. Together with the IDC, we are also currently assessing the establishment of special and dedicated manufacturing hubs in the various Industrial Development Zones to ensure that this technology is harnessed.”

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