Fuel-cell technology could in the long term become the dominant driver of the SA platinum industry, an Anglo Platinum spokesman said recently.

Fuel-cell technology could in the long term become the dominant driver of the SA platinum industry, Anglo Platinum spokesman Mike Mtakati said recently.

Platinum is currently used as an integral part of automotive catalytic converter exhaust systems on cars and fuel-cell technology has developed sufficient momentum to make a range of governments and industries particularly the platinum industry start revising their plans, Mtakati told .

Anglo Platinum recently invested R320 million to research applications of platinum in fuel cells. General Motors - the world’s biggest producer of vehicles - now devotes about half of its research and development to fuel cells and China and the European Union have announced government backing for similar projects.

CARtoday.com reported earlier this week that a group of major manufacturers, including Toyota, Nissan, DaimlerChrysler and Ford, would pool resources to increase the storage capacity of hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars.

At the moment, the use of platinum for fuel cells is tiny, perhaps a few thousand ounces. SA produces 4,1-million ounces of platinum a year of the global 6,1-million ounces of production.

Fuel cells work by generating power through the combination of hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat and water.

"Because fuel cells use an electrochemical process to produce a direct current, without combustion or moving parts, they provide a means of generating power cleanly, quietly and efficiently near to its point of use," speciality chemicals group Johnson Matthey told .

The potential of fuel cells is seen in Anglo Platinum's announcement earlier this month that it had bought 17,5 per cent of refiner Johnson Matthey's fuel cells unit for R320 million.

Fuel cells "could be very important for the industry but it is almost a fool's game to guess the exact timing," said Marcus Nurdin of the International Platinum Association, an industry body.

However, Nurdin says that cars might not be the first mass users of the technology because of time versus cost factors.

One issue for platinum producers is the perception that the cost of the metal could cause producers to hesitate to promote the technology. "One of our problems is that platinum is viewed entirely by its cost and not by its value," Nurdin said.

To ensure that the cost of using platinum did not inhibit the growth of the fuel cell industry, developers had to maximise surface area while minimising the amount of metal used.

The current fuel-cell system used to propel a motorcar uses about 100g of platinum. When serious production begins, only 40g will be used. Mass production will start with 20g, while the ultimate target in the US is a mere 9g, Nurdin said.

Evidently, big obstacles needed to be overcome before fuel cells reached critical mass, but they could be the most important component of the future of the platinum industry. If so, the ramifications for SA could be as significant, the report said.

Original article from Car