South Africa Sees Potential in a Hydrogen Economy

ppp018spshutt.jpg The Dept. of Science & Technology (DST) is instrumental in charting the future course of development in South Africa. Of late, it has been busy finalizing a national Hydrogen-Fuel Cell Strategy that aims to take advantage of some of the natural advantages South Africa’s rich mineral resource base confers.
News broke nationwide end of November that South Africa’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research was joining with North West University to establish a hydrogen-fuel cell “Centre of Competence”. The news, however, was “a bit premature,” according to a DST executive.
Two other hydgrogen research centers have already been established but have not been officially announced publicly. The CSIR-North West center represents the third leg of a national strategy that entails undertaking applied research in the areas of hydrogen and fuel cell production, distribution and applications in industrial, commercial and consumer sectors of the economy.
The premature news release pre-empted in part the DST minister’s plans to announce the national Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Strategy in January. DST plans to officially announce and provide additional information about its overarching national strategy early next year. The plan has been approved by the national cabinet and allocated a ZAR 60 million budget for its first year; capital resources that may eventually expand to ZAR 300 million over three years, according to the DST executive.

Clean Energy Potential at Home and Internationally
South Africa is particularly well suited as a candidate for developing a vertically integrated hydrogen-fuel cell economy. It is the world’s leading producer of platinum, the essential key catalyst in fuel cell and hydrogen production processes. Assisting the development of such an industry would not only create jobs and value-added industrial and commercial opportunities in South Africa, it would also likely leave the country well-positioned to export hydrogen, fuel cells and associated products and technology, the DST official noted.
“South Africa is facing a number of energy challenges…This is a strategy that positions South Africa to serve the international, global hydrogen economy, one that relies on platinum, of which South Africa is the world’s leading producer…It’s an industrial strategy that addresses the world obsession with energy security and the environmental impact of energy production.”
Emerging alternative fuels and power sources such as hydrogen and fuel cells will have a tough time in countries such as South Africa, or any country, without government incentives that provide leadership and the political will to see them through to fruition, as well as active support by companies in existing, established economic sectors that could participate and/or benefit from such development, however.
Fuel cells are already increasingly being used, mostly to supply high-quality uninterrupted power for industrial and commercial facilities, the official noted, but the costs remain prohibitive for wider spread adoption.
Whereas coal and nuclear are both subsidized and the country’s main power and fuel producers owned by the government, there are no incentives for producing hydrgogen or fuel cells. The costs associated with continuing to develop technology and process improvements, much less build out infrastructure and products for the industrial, commercial and consumer sectors, that can make them more competitive are high.
And while being the world’s leading producer of platinum was a key factor in DST developing the national hydrogen and fuel cell strategy, the country’s platinum miners have not as yet stepped up and expressed interest in participating or funding any of the research to be conducted at the three centers. “My feeling is that the mining houses should be working with us…to be part of the solution,” the DST official said.
Researchers, notably in Japan, continue their search for a cheaper substitute for platinum, a key element in automotive catalytic converters and oil refining processes, but have as yet been unable to find one. That could change, however. Developing a hydrogen-fuel cell market at home in South Africa would give platinum miners another steady, local and long-term buyer. And in addtion to helping their status as corporate citizens at home, they could make good use of fuel cells in their own operations as they are ideally suited for use in off-grid industrial facilities and mine sites.

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

3 responses

  1. ere is the truth about hydrogen energy.
    A. Hydrogen can be made at home and requires NO NEW INFRASTRUCTURE. Anybody who says it can’t be made at home or work is either a shill or completely out of touch with reality and technology. You can make it for free, at home, all day long and all night long. The production can be powered by solar, wind, microbes and other free sources. The metrics quoted by the anti-hydrogen crowd are just lies to protect their competing business interests.
    B. It now costs less to make hydrogen from water than any known way to make gasoline and it continues to get cheaper every month: The GE Noryl system, The R4 processor and over a hundred different systems can do this NOW; with many more expected next year. The “battery shill” spin has worn thin and has been supplanted by facts. Hydrogen is made from WATER via solar energy, wind energy, microbes, radio waves, sunlight and salt, and other FREE sources of energy. Hydrogen can also be made from any organic garbage, waste, plants or ANYTHING organic via lasers, plasma beams or dozens of other powered exotics which can be run off of EITHER the grid or the free hydrogen made from solar energy, wind energy, microbes, radio waves, sunlight and salt, and other FREE sources of energy OR the grid. There is no oil that needs to be involved anywhere in the production of hydrogen. These systems trickle charge hydrogen into storage containers, either tanks or solid state cassettes, 24/7.
    C. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent by battery companies like A123, Cobasys, AltairNano, etc. in order to discredit hydrogen because hydrogen works better than batteries. A large number of “pundits” who act as “writers”, “bloggers”, “authors” and “non-profit evangelist group founders” are actually supported by financial gain from battery companies who are terrified of hydrogen displacing their revenue streams. They include:
    Ulf Bossel of the European Fuel Cell Forum,
    Alec Brooks
    James Woolsey
    EV World
    Sam Thurber
    Cal Cars
    Felix Kramer
    Here are the hard facts. I bet $50,000.00 cash that all of the facts in these RESPONSES are true. If you can prove that your batteries beat these FACTS then you get my 50K if not then I get yours.
    Lets go over the battery and bio-fuel shills lies:
    Lie # 1:
    “But critics say the process of producing hydrogen requires three to four times more energy than the hydrogen later generates in the fuel cell.”
    RESPONSE: This is data from the 60’s. It is now more efficient to make hydrogen than it is to make gasoline, build or use batteries or process bio-fuel. The technology has beat everything else.
    Lie # 2:
    “the cars are too expensive.”
    RESPONSE: The production of hydrogen cars is at an early stage while battery cars have been around for almost a hundred years and the battery cars are still expensive for what you get. The Moore’s law on hydrogen cars shows a clear price decline to low cost in market volume.
    Lie #3:
    ” hydrogen molecules can’t be contained easily without energy-consuming compressors or maintaining them in liquid form at extremely low temperatures , and it’s extremely difficult to store,”
    RESPONSE: This data is also from the 60’s. Hydrogen is stored in chemical powders and muds that easily contain vast amounts of hydrogen. Pressure and liquid tanks to store hydrogen are old school archaic technologies. Hydrogen can be easily stored in over 2800 different solid state compounds.
    Lie #4:
    “The infrastructure isn’t there”
    RESPONSE: Solid state hydrogen can be shipped by UPS, Common Carrier and uses all existing infrastructure. DOPT has already licensed and approved such solid state delivery via common EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE. This method can reavch every person on earth TODAY! This requires almost NO NEW INFRASTRUCTURE. NO INFRASTRUCTURE IS NEEDED!!! This is the biggest lie of all. A large number of start-ups have solid state hydrogen solutions that entirely use existing infrastructure.
    Lie #5:
    “the hydrogen is too expensive”
    RESPONSE: Hydrogen can be made at home or office in numerous ways powered by solar or wind or microbes or any number of free power sources. It is always being made by such devices and constantly trickle charged into solid state storage systems all day and night FOR FREE without grid power. Hydrogen processors now make hydrogen with 91% efficiency.
    A “fuel cell car” and an “electric car” ARE THE SAME THING. The shills want you to think otherwise. The only difference is where the electricity is stored. You can pull the batteries out of every Zenn, Tesla, Zap, EV1, Venture Vehicle, etc. and pop a fuel cell/hydrogen pack in the same hole and go further, more efficiently in EVERY SINGLE CASE.
    A modern fuel cell and hydrogen system beats batteries on every front including
    FIRE- Batteries catch on fire constantly and have been the result of massively more fires and explosions than hydrogen.
    Life Span- Hydrogen power systems run massively longer and provide massively greater range per charge than batteries.
    Run Time – The run time of batteries constantly shortens while hydrogen does not.
    Memory Effect- This effect is not present in hydrogen systems
    Recharge Time- modern hydrogen systems are instant recharge.
    Charge life- Modern hydrogen systems can recharge massively longer than batteries before end of life.
    Nano powder batteries have cancer causing powder that falls into the pores of the Chinese factory workers skin and gives them potentially fatal diseases
    Cost- The cost per 300 mile range for a hydrogen car system is massively lower than a battery system. A hydrogen powered car TODAY that will drive 300 miles without a refill is 50% of the price of a battery car that will drive 300 miles without a refill.
    Energy from “sour-grid”- A modern hydrogen system can be charged from a completely clean home energy system.
    Can’t make energy at home- Hydrogen can be made at home. Batteries cannot.
    Storage Density – Modern hydrogen technology has a massively higher storage density than batteries.
    Bulky Size- Hydrogen systems are dramatically less bulky than batteries.
    High Weight- The weight of batteries is so great ir reduces the reange of travel of a vehicle which causes the use of wasteful energy just to haul the batteries along with the car. Hydrogen energy systems weigh far less.
    Environmental soundness- The disposal of batteries after use presents a deadly environmental issue.
    Self Discharge issues- Hydrogen does not self discharge like batteries.
    Batteries cause a greater carbon footprint than hydrogen
    Battery shills are mostly paid for by military contractors.
    The charge-keeping capability of a typical lithium-ion battery degrades steadily over time and with use. After only one or two years of use, the runtime of a laptop or cell phone battery is reduced to the point where the user experience is significantly impacted. For example, the runtime of a typical 4-hour laptop battery drops to only about 2.5 hours after 3,000 hours of use. By contrast, the latest fuel cells continue to deliver nearly their original levels of runtime well past the 2,000 and 3,000 hour marks and are still going strong at 5,000+ hours
    The electrical capacity of batteries has not kept up with the increasing power consumption of electronic devices. Features such as W-LAN, higher CPU speed, “always-on”, large and bright displays and many others are important for the user but severely limited by today`s battery life. Lithium ion batteries, and lithium-polymer batteries have almost reached fundamental limits. A laptop playing a DVD today has a runtime of just above one hour on one battery pack, which is clearly not acceptable.
    Batteries require coal be burned to charge them. One pound of coal has roughly 14,000 Btu of chemical energy in it. Any reference textbook says that. When that pound is burned in an electric powerplant, steam is made, which drives turbines at high speed, alternators are turned, and electricity is made. When everything operates well, all that turns out to be generally around 30% efficient, meaning that 30% of the chemical energy that started out in the coal has become actual electricity.
    (The other 70% all becomes various forms of heat, all of which contributes toward Global Warming and other problems). Now we have around 4200 Btus of remaining energy, now as electricity, which is a little over a kilowatt-hour. (It turns out that nuclear power is slightly better, at around 32% efficiency, and petroleum and natural gas turbines tend to be around 28% or 29%, but all are essentially the same.) That electricity then has to travel long distances through transformers and wires to get to your house. If you lived right next door to a power plant, it would be fine, but for average Americans, it turns out that around 60% of the electricity put into those wires and transformers never gets to the customers at the other end! It is mostly wasted because the wires become hot because of all the electrical current flowing through them, and they act a lot like giant toasters! People are therefore not generally aware that only around 13% of the chemical energy burned in the coal in the power plant is actually available as electricity in your house! (The rest, the other 87% all winds up being various forms of heat, all contributing to global warming!) So, for a pound of coal burned, your house electrical outlets then receive around 1,820 Btu of electrical power. Around 1100 Btu of that can actually get put in the batteries, due to efficiencies of battery chargers and batteries. Of the energy STORED in the batteries, the efficiencies of batteries, motors and gear trains are such that around 450 Btu of that are eventually available at the wheels as motive power. (Remember that this is out of 14,000 Btu of chemical energy that was produced when that pound of coal was burned!)
    One watt-hour is equal to about 3.412 Btus, so this 450 Btus is the same as around 130 watt-hours, or, for a 14-volt automotive battery, around 10 ampere-hours of actual usable power. The 130 watt-hours is also equal to around 0.18 horsepower for an hour. Now, this might sound like a lot, but remember that the 14,000 Btu in the pound of coal resulted in this 450 Btu that is actually usable in a car, only about 3% overall efficiency! And the other 97% of that energy when the coal was burned all went toward heating that contributes to global
    In contrast, a gallon of gasoline has around 126,000 Btu of energy in it, of which a modern car converts around 21% into motive power, so there results around 26,000 Btu of motive power. POINT: Around 60 pounds of coal (with 840,000 Btu of chemical energy in it) must actually get burned to provide the electricity such that a battery-powered car can do the equivalent to a single gallon of gasoline! (60 * 450 = 27,000) (This is a VERY “losing proposition”!)
    That amount of electricity that needs to go INTO the batteries in the car (to be equivalent to that ONE gallon of gasoline) is therefore the 1100 Btu per pound of coal divided by that 3.412 times 60 pounds, or around 20,000 watt-hours of electricity. That is a LOT of electricity! Say you will have 10 hours at night for the batteries to recharge. That means that you would have to have 2,000 watts of power constantly being used and feeding the batteries. For the 14 volt circuitry of standard batteries, that would mean that around 140 amperes of charging electricity would constantly be needed. (NOT the 6 amperes of a good battery charger!) (This huge charging current might actually cause the batteries to explode, unless they are a special and more expensive Deep-Discharge type of battery!) (Batteries in golf-carts are generally wired in series to reduce the amount of current needed.)
    Even the house wiring involved might be in question! We are talking about a REALLY impressive battery charger, of course, akin to 25 conventional battery chargers used together, which requires that 1820 / 3.412 * 60 or about 32,000 watt-hours of input electricity. Over our ten hours, we are therefore talking about needing 3,200 watts of electricity constantly coming in to supply your battery charger. Your house electrical service is sufficient for this need, but standard house wiring would not be. If at 120 volts, a constant 30 amperes of house electricity would be needed, where normal house circuits are either 15 amp or 20 amp if heavy duty. This probably means you would need the specialized wiring like was installed for your air conditioner, which uses roughly the same amount of electricity, through a special 240 volt wiring made especially for the air conditioner. This means you need around 15 amperes of input power to provide that 3,200 watts at 240 volts, or about 30 amps if it is 120 volts. Herein could be a problem, because most houses were built with 100-ampere electrical service If the A/C is running and this battery charger and some other electrical devices, you might get close to the full capacity of the house wiring! The existing house wiring, and even the transformers up on the utility poles, are barely big enough and could overheat at that constant heavy ten-hour load!
    We haven’t even yet considered the cost of all that electricity! When you think about a constant 10-hour long consumption of about as much electricity as your central air conditioner uses, you probably start to get the picture. But say you are in some wonderful location where electricity is still only 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. We are needing to use up 32 kilowatt-hours (to equal the vehicle performance of a single gallon of gasoline, remember), so that is 32 * 10 or $3.20 of electricity added to your house electric bill, for the equivalent to ONE gallon of gasoline! It does not initially APPEAR to cost anything, and the car merrily scoots around on its battery power. But if and when an owner realizes that they also have to spend at least $3.20 in extra electricity for each gallon of gas not used, much of the financial argument goes away!
    You are encouraged to do research to confirm what is described above. It is all true. Did you notice the “worst part” of what is described above? I’m not even talking about the fact that you would wind up paying for at least $3.20 of house electricity to replace each $3 gallon of gasoline! In refining a gallon of gasoline, yes, significant energy is used up, although I have never been able to get a reliable figure. But certainly well under 840,000 Btu of refining energy is required to form the gallon (126,000 Btu) of gasoline. Replace all cars with battery-powered vehicles, and we then would NEED to burn 60 pounds of coal or use 840,000 Btu of coal (or nuclear) chemical energy to produce the equivalent effect of every gallon of gasoline. This is worse, regarding resource energy wastage, than the vehicles that are currently on the roads! (Yes, the energy is used up in a distant place, and maybe it seems possible to be able to be ignored, but that is still a really bad idea!) And virtually everything that does not contribute to the “motive power” winds up as wasted heat energy.
    When those 60 pounds of coal were burned to create the needed electricity to duplicate the benefits of one gallon of gasoline, carbon dioxide is also released into the atmosphere. The coal is around 75% of bituminous coal, or 45 pounds of that. It is fairly simple to determine the amount of carbon dioxide that is created when it is oxidized. The amounts of carbon and oxygen have to be in a molal relationship of one to two. That means the weight relationship has to be 12 (the atomic weight of carbon) to (12 + 16 + 16 or 44) (the atomic weight of the molecule of CO2. This means that 44/12 or 3.67 times the weight of carbon dioxide is created, or in this case, 165 pounds, of carbon-dioxide would get released in this process. When a gallon of gasoline is burned in an automobile, it is less. A gallon of gasoline weights around 6 pounds, and it is about 83% carbon. That means that it contains nearly exactly 5 pounds of carbon in the gallon. Again using the 3.67 multiplier, we can see that only around 18 pounds of carbon-dioxide is released.
    This means that global warming then would occur around 7 times as fast as now! (840,000 / 126,000 [heat]) or (165 / 18 [CO2]). If millions of people started driving battery-powered or Hydrogen-powered vehicles, it would therefore be a far WORSE environmental disaster than now, causing global warming to become even faster than it already is!
    The “Ethanol adventuare” of using 1/5 of the total farm crop production of 2006 for conversion to Ethanol, which provided only around 2% of the vehicle fuels we used in 2006, is simply endangering our near-term food supplies. News reports are already (April 2007) discussing higher milk, bread, beef, and many other food prices in our grocery stores, as a result of the massive focus on producing Ethanol. But some weather problem is bound to occur. Where we used to have massive over-production of nearly all crops, our government has planted the seeds of a true food-supply disaster, which could happen any year now. In 2008, it is expected that the amount of America’s total crop production which will go to making Ethanol will be 1/3 of everything grown! It is as if we are totally crazy, or that we do not even give any thought to what might be a consequence next week or next month or next year! It really is amazing!

  2. If you look closely at the Space Shuttle photo, you will see two kinds of propellant plume: the very bright ones from the solid rocket boosters and faint blue ones from the Shuttle proper.
    The bright plumes result from the combustion of powdered aluminum in the oxygen-rich decomposition products of ammonium perchlorate. Most of the power the vehicle uses to travel its first few miles, the part of the trip in which it expels most of the mass it has at launch, is aluminum power, not hydrogen power.

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