New fuel cell plant in South Africa targets clean energy cars

Africa’s first fuel cell component plant will start production in December 2017 aiming to take advantage of rising demand for clean energy cars in the country, officials from Isondo Precious Metals said in an interview with Reuters on 8 February.

The plant which will produce fuel cells using platinum as a catalyst will open either in Johannesburg or Durban by the end of the year in order to take advantage of South Africa’s position as the world’s top platinum producer.

Vinay Somera, chief executive of Isondo Precious Metals, said that tax breaks, relatively cheap labor costs and access to raw materials would also give the plant a competitive advantage.

“We are not re-inventing the wheel, we are going for what is available but locating the manufacturing here while doing it cheaper and at the same standard internationally,” said Somera.

Speaking on the opening of the plant, David Hart, director of Swiss-based sustainable energy consultancy, E4tech, said by 2030 there could be 1.6 million fuel cell vehicles globally.

“It is very clear that there will be more people entering this market and if you do it in five years time, it is probably too late. So, to some level it is first mover advantage and this is important,” Hart told Reuters.

A fuel cell uses a chemical reaction to convert a fuel -often hydrogen or natural gas – into electricity. According to a US Department of Energy report fuel cell vehicles therefore have the potential to significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower harmful emissions that contribute to climate change.

“They run on gas rather than gasoline and emit no harmful tailpipe emissions. Several challenges must be overcome for them to be competitive with conventional vehicles, but their potential benefits are substantial.”

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New fuel cell plant in South Africa targets clean energy cars