THE South African government’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2023 has made little mention of hydrogen, but the country’s platinum mines will benefit from greater demand as the hydrogen economy takes off in other countries, Mining Indaba delegates heard yesterday.
Anglo American Platinum CEO Craig Miller said in a panel discussion that he expected that the growing demand for platinum group metals (PGMs) for use in hydrogen fuel cells would take up the anticipated slack in demand created from the decline in sales of internal combustion engined (ICE) vehicles in the future.
PGMs are used in these vehicles to reduce the carbon emissions in catalytic converters, and many developed countries have already set target dates when the sale of new ICE vehicles will be banned.
Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells however currently comprise a fraction of the new generation of vehicles powered by renewable energy, with most using electric battery power, which use almost no PGMs.
Miller said BMW had launched its iX5 Hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicle, Toyota had launched a new Crown sedan powered by hydrogen, while Anglo American had showcased a large mining truck that uses hydrogen.
Miller said the automotive industry currently produced some 100 million units annually, and if only 10% of these use hydrogen technology in the future, this would translate into 5 million ounces of additional demand for PGM’s per year, representing substantial additional demand.
Last year, according to an online search by Business Report, the demand for PGM’s globally came to 7.5 million ounces.
Dr Rebecca Masemurule, the chief science and technology representative of the Department of Science and Innovation, said there was good growth for the hydrogen economy under all the scenarios they had developed into the future industrialisation of South Africa.
She said also that the hydrogen economy and associated growing demand for PGM’s had the potential to take up all the jobs lost in the coal mining industry as demand for coal dried up, but “only if we move fast enough.”
However, the scale of capital required to develop the hydrogen economy was significant, and what’s more, governments could no longer afford the very long negotiations with different funders, that typically took many years to draw to a conclusion, for such funding.
Joanne Bate, the chief operations officer of the Industrial Development Corporation, said many countries had significantly more capital available to develop their hydrogen economies and South Africa could benefit from developing a green hydrogen export market, as well as through other uses of hydrogen in its own economy.
She said the potential uses of hydrogen in the future energy mix was likely to be much more varied than it is today.
Sietse van der Woude, a senior executive Mechanisation and Safety at the Minerals Council, said South Africa, with its platinum resources, should be in the frontline of the hydrogen economy. He said only 40 countries in the world currently had any form of government policy in place on hydrogen, and only four of those countries were in Africa. He said many countries had large subsidies in place to develop the hydrogen economy.