The world’s first trial of an off-grid fuel cell supplying electricity to 34 rural homes

15-09-2014
Ballard and Anglo American Platinum announced a first of its kind trial to test the application of platinum-based fuel cells to provide off-grid electricity to a rural community of 34 homes in rural South Africa. The fuel cells will run of a monthly supply of liquid methanol. The trial is set to run for 12 months and will test all aspects of the project with a view to commercialise the system thereafter for other off-grid rural communities in South Africa and Africa.
Ballard Power Systems, Inc.

Electricity generated from fuel cells using platinum and methanol will power 34 households making up the community of Naledi Trust near Kroonstad in South Africa in a first of its kind trial. The trial has been established by Anglo American Platinum and Ballard in partnership with Eskom and the South African Department of Energy. These rural communities generate significant environmental and financial costs when connected to the national electricity grid and therefore these platinum-based fuel cells developed by Ballard provide significant benefits if the trial is successful. Furthermore, as the majority of electricity in South Africa is generated from coal, the fuel cells provide a clean alternative to many other methods of providing electricity to these rural communities. The system is designed to provide 15 kW’s of total power and up to 70 kW if supplemented with batteries. Uninterrupted primary power will be maintained by a monthly supply of liquid methanol to an external storage tank supplying the power unit. The trial is expected to validate technical and operating requirements for such off-grid power generation with significant opportunities in both South Africa and the rest of Africa if successful. Other factors being assessed in the trial include the logistics of methanol supply, electrical usage patterns for rural communities, and ongoing product maintenance requirements. The field trial is planned to last 12 months. If successful the project will also provide manufacturing and service jobs and open a significant technology sector in the country while contributing to the country’s exports and the South African Beneficiation strategy by increasing platinum demand and technology development.

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