Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 103



Feature
HySA/Catalysis – co-hosted by UCT and Mintek
– is one of three government-funded centres of
competence, and is tasked with developing South
Africa’s contribution to global hydrogen and fuel cell
technology. The centre collaborated with Professor
Arnaud Malan and his team from the
Department of Mechanical Engineering
and FlyH2 Aerospace, the company
that will be producing the UAV,
which became a licensee of the
patented fuel cell technology
developed by HySA/Catalysis.
Speaking after the UAV
recently won first prize at
the Avi awards held by
the Council for Scientific
and Industrial Research
in Pretoria, co-founder of
FlyH2 Aerospace Mark van
Wyk described the aircraft
as the first of its kind to be
designed and built in Africa. Better
yet, the use of hydrogen fuel cells
means that the aircraft will operate
with zero emissions. “The system emissions
are completely toxicant-free,” van Wyk explains.
“In the future, our company wishes to develop the
technology further, to a level where it can also
power manned aircraft. Both Boeing and Airbus have
undertaken significant research into hydrogen fuel
cells. This could be the future of green aviation.”
The UAV, however, is just one application of fuel
cell technology. When it comes to HySA/Catalysis,
the centre’s aims are far broader. Dr Sharon Blair,
director of HySA/Catalysis, explains that the centre
hopes to assist in transforming South Africa’s
economy from a resource-based economy – as a
supplier of raw materials – to a knowledge-based
economy, developing, manufacturing and exporting
value-added products. Right now, South Africa sells
platinum as a raw metal, and exports it,” explains
Blair. “Other countries then upgrade that platinum to
create products that we buy back – at a much higher
price.” Her goal, at HySA/Catalysis, is to make sure
South Africa develops the manufacturing capabilities
to begin to climb that value chain, starting at the
platinum refinery.
At this point, she believes, it is critical that South
Africa focuses on the early stages of the platinum
value chain. “What we are trying to do here is
develop the intellectual property in South Africa
based on platinum components, so that we
have more control over where the materials and
components are manufactured, and can build a
sustainable industry,” she says.
As the UAV demonstrates, fuel cells are a very
promising clean power source, with the potential
to replace our current ‘dirty’ internal combustion
engines. A key component of these cells is
platinum, which is converted into a catalyst – the
first step on the platinum fuel cell value chain.
The catalyst is a powder, which is then painted
onto a membrane – the second step up the
value chain to the membrane electrode
assembly (MEA). The manufacture
of these two simple first steps
would have significant effects
on the country’s economy.
According to BCC Research in
2013, at current fuel-cell
market growth rates, the
catalyst and ink market
in 2017 will grow to $265
million, and the MEA market
to $1.2 billion. This reflects
about 9.5 times the original
value of the raw platinum.
We have an opportunity to
participate in this market globally,
thus increasing the value of goods
currently exported from South Africa.
As it stands, says Blair, HySA/Catalysis
has developed a family of platinum catalysts on
a par with international products, and they are just
beginning to sell these. The next step will be the
membrane electrode assembly, and they are working
with their first customers now to meet their needs.
The centre is also developing advanced fuel-cell
components based on stainless steel and other
materials that can be manufactured in South Africa.
The promise of these technologies is starting to
attract large global automotive fuel cell companies as
partners, but the intellectual property will remain in
South Africa.
“So while we know what components we can sell
today,” she says, “we are also developing components
for 10 years down the line.”
The focus on the early stages of the value chain is
just one avenue of HySA/Catalysis’ strategy. The
centre partners with foreign fuel-cell companies
and introduces them to local companies that
can participate in delivering components, all the
way up through distribution to the end customer.
These foreign partners agree to incorporate local
technology into their products once it meets their
needs. In 2015, Powercell Sweden installed their
low-temperature fuel-cell system on a Vodacom
mobile tower, using local company Powertech
Systems Integrators. Powercell is also one of HySA/
Catalysis’ potential MEA customers. HySA/Catalysis
wants to see benefits for multiple players along the
supply chain, and it is already well on its way to
doing so.
By Natalie Simon and Ambre Nicolson. Image of Alpha
supplied by FlyH2.
Industry, innovation and infrastructure 98

HySA/Catalysis FlyH2 AerospaceAvi awards BCC Research 





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