Impala Platinum Limited (Implats), a platinum producing company, has unveiled a new prototype of its fuel cell forklift and hydrogen (H2) refuelling station at its Impala Refining Services in Springs, Johannesburg.

In partnership with Hydrogen South Africa (HySa) Systems, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the Department of Science and Technology, the three-year project commenced in 2012 and is the first of its kind in South Africa.

The initiative, which has cost an estimated R12m ($814,000) so far, focuses on building local skills in H2 and fuel cell product development, with HySa Systems having received a total of R6m ($401,000) from Implats to develop the H2 fuel cell-powered prototypes.

The metal hydride H2 storage system allows the forklift to operate at lower pressures of 190 bar, aiming to improve safety and costs on the vehicles. The current cost of the local refuelling station stands at around R2m ($136,000) compared to paying €500,000 ($569,000) to import an international system.

The fuel cell forklift has been designed to generate low noise pollution and the metal hydride storage system can hold enough fuel for two to four days’ operation before H2 refuelling is required – a process that takes seven minutes.

Mainstream commercialisation

Dr Cordellia, Director of HySa Systems, noted, “Fuel cell-powered forklifts are gaining significant traction worldwide and are now entering mainstream commercialisation. Through this demonstration project, HySa Systems has addressed both challenges through the use of a novel metal hybride material for both H2 compression and storage.”

HySa Systems created South Africa’s first H2-powered tricycle and scooter and has introduced many H2 fuel cell technological innovations since its inception in 2007.

Implats development support for fuel cells is aligned with the group’s strategy to use ‘green’ technologies to improve the environmental and safety condition within all its operations. The company intends to fast-track local manufacturing of fuel cells and associated components, with strategic investments aimed at exploring a carbon neutral fuel source for its operations and to increase foreign investment in similar projects across South Africa.