While mining, refining and export are in themselves important, the significance of these endowments lies in building a mature industrial cluster that combines extraction, manufacturing of machinery and value-added products, and development of engineering services - all of which can be used domestically and for export.
The platinum group metals (PGM), of which the country possesses over three-quarters of known global reserves, are one sub-sector with such possibilities, given their utility, which includes jewellery, electronic goods, catalytic converters and hydrogen fuel cells.
It is on the latter that one of the
The platinum catalyst is a core component of proton exchange membrane fuel cells, which are emerging as a dominant hydrogen fuel-cell type, capable of powering automobiles and acting as stationary devices to provide electricity.
Herein lies the confluence of factors that have inspired Mistra to interrogate this issue: the extensive reserves of a unique class of minerals, the utility of such natural endowments in a nascent energy value chain, and the fact that possibilities exist for such energy to be generated with as little destruction to the environment as possible.
In its long-term vision, the government has set its sights on
Mistra's research report on the role of platinum group metals will be released on Friday. The report examines the challenges that attach to the government's ambition for its PGM reserves. To what extent are PGM relevant to the emergent hydrogen economy and is this economy truly on the rise? What is the state of global research on hydrogen fuel cell technology? What are the lessons that can be learnt from experience on the emergence of a "disruptive technology"? Is the country's knowledge base and is its capabilities suited to, and being mobilised for, the changes required?
At its core is the issue of a knowledge-based network, already manifest in the Hydrogen South Africa initiative in which the
If - or indeed, when - the hydrogen economy takes off in earnest, the demand for PGM and fuel cells will be significantly affected. This will escalate along with capabilities to recycle PGM, which are largely non-perishable.
Related to all these probabilities is the potent mix of geopolitical issues relating to global security of supply, PGM trading arrangements that minimise disruptive price volatility, and social stability within the mining communities and
The success also depends on the courage to take the plunge. This implies starting today to invest in highly skilled human capital across technologies and segments of the hydrogen fuel cell value chain. It also requires the courage to expand the creation of fuel cell demand.
A few countries globally - including the US,
Besides literature reviews and interviews with experts in this field, the researchers have also attempted a novel approach, to apply the optimisation model of the South African energy system to fuel cell-based road transport.
The fledgling nature of the hydrogen economy means that many questions are as yet unanswered.
Mistra's modest aim is to contribute to continuing exploration of, and discourse on, this subject.
Joel Netshitenzhe is Mistra's executive director
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