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Griffith said this against the background of Korean automotive manufacturer Hyundai targeting the production of 1 000 ix35 fuel cell vehicles in the UK by the end of this year. Highlighting the need for continuous industry collaboration with customers and nontraditional partners to develop uses for platinum-group metals (PGMs), Griffith outlined that if fuel cell cars succeeded in dominating the electric vehicle segment in Europe, platinum demand within Europe would rise to 6.6-million ounces in 2050.

Conversely, if battery cars dominated, demand for platinum within Europe would decline to 2.5-million ounces in the same period. On the infrastructure front, Hyundai expects 65 hydrogen stations to be available in the UK this year, 300 by 2025 and 1 150 by 2030, to serve 10 000 fuel cell vehicles by 2020 and 1.6-million-plus by 2030. California is targeting 100 hydrogen stations by 2017 and Japan 1 000 stations by 2025. However, a feared “infrastructure war” with alternative fuel technologies is prompting the platinum sector to make strong calls for more infrastructure collaboration across a broader front to put fuel cell technology on the front foot.

To that end, Amplats is building on its long-standing collaboration with companies like Johnson Matthey, Altergy, Hydrogenius and Ballard to springboard itself and the industry towards far greater collaboration across a far broader front. “We need to collaborate to drive this industry transforming technology,” Griffith added in a media release to Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online. Fuel cell electric vehicles already have the environmental and performance edge over their battery car rivals.

For example, Hyundai’s ix35 fuel cell cars have a 594 km range, take three minutes to charge and produce no harmful emissions at all. Toyota last week raised $4.2-billion to advance its fuel cell thrust still further. Low-carbon energy consultancy Element Energy says that, provided infrastructure is in place, fuel cell vehicles will take half of the new car market by 2050. SFA Oxford chairperson Stephen Forrest told this year’s Mining Indaba, in Cape Town, that the move towards cleaner fuel and the focus on fuel cells for cars to be the sources of new demand for platinum, as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai release fuel cells, with Daimler set to follow suit in 2017.

Forrest said he expected platinum loadings for fuel cells to be close to 14 g a car, possibly reducing later as technology improves. Ivanhoe Mines executive chairperson Robert Friedland told the same Indaba conference that Japan was building platinum-using fuel cells to provide clean electricity for the heating of 5.3-million homes. Japan is also planning to run the Tokyo Olympics on fuel cells to showcase the arrival of the hydrogen economy. In addition, it has become mandatory for all Japanese government cars to be fuel cell driven to ensure cleaner air, which is a growing imperative in a world where 66% of people will be living in cities by 2050.

Fuel cells are also supplying low-cost electricity to the 34 participating households in the Naledi Trust community, in the Moqhaka municipality of the Free State, where Amplats has a 15 kW system from Ballard Power Systems. Fuel cell mini-grid technology is a competitive alternative to extending Eskom transmission lines to provide lighting, refrigeration and cooking power to far-flung rural communities. Fuel cells are also being tested to drive underground locomotives and ultra-low profile dozers in mines.

A call for South Africa to commit to 1 000 MW of fuel cell electricity by 2020 was also made by Mitochondria Energy chairperson Mashudu Ramano at the installation of the 100 kW fuel cell at the Chamber of Mines building in central Johannesburg. Mitochondria CEO Anthea Bath calculates that while 1 000 MW will only represent 2% of South Africa's power supply, it will create demand for 5% more platinum metal and if 1% of cars are fuel cell powered, it will create demand for 20% more platinum metal. Impala Platinum CEO Terence Goodlace has outlined his company’s plans to install fuel cells at its East Rand platinum refinery, which already has a supply of hydrogen.

At the same time, South Africa’s electricity problems are offering platinum mining companies a major opportunity to stimulate the offtake of platinum in the stationary power market. State power utility Eskom’s load-shedding programme and the global trend towards decentralised power generation are elevating fuel cell technology. Palladium is being used to extend the shelf life of food and to purify groundwater and rhodium to make fibreglass, wind turbines and insulation. Lesser known PGMs like iridium and ruthenium are earmarked for use in products being developed to store electricity from utilities during nonpeak periods, for use during peak periods, as well as to store solar energy while the sun is shining so that it is available for use after dark. The largest current use of PGMs is in catalytic converters, where progress has been made to such a great extent that 100 vehicles with catalytic converters today emit the equivalent of a single car’s emissions in the 1960s