The South African government has recently announced an investment of $49 million for research in hydrogen and in fuel cells. The government calls for 80-percent of the money to go towards expertise development and technology and the remaining 20-percent to be allocated for the private sector.
The hydrogen research would be geared towards production using either coal gasification or high temperature water cracking with nuclear reactors. The research on fuel cells, however, is geared towards bolstering the country’s platinum industry as this expensive metal is used as a catalyst in most current FC’s.
The South African government hopes to capture 25-percent of the platinum for fuel cells market by 2020. But, if the government actually had 2020 vision they would see that they are jumping into this marketplace a little too late.
South Africa currently produces around 80-percent of the world’s platinum resources with Canada and Russia accounting for much of the rest of the reserves. But, the reason the cost of fuel cells are so high right now is the use of expensive platinum.
This is why the push in the industry over the past couple of years has been to either drastically reduce or eliminate platinum as the catalyst. In fact, over the past few years I’ve written about Australian scientists, Daihatsu and Oxford University all creating platinum-free fuel cells.
A person really can’t blame the South African government for wanting to keep the platinum flowing out and the money coming in. But, choosing a market that is currently scaling back its use, doesn’t sound like a winner. And, by the year 2020 there are sure to be enough breakthroughs in platinum reduction or elimination for fuel cells that the government would be better off investing the $49 million in “jewelry research.”