Skip to comments.Fuel cells promise brave new world for platinum
Posted on 11/27/2002 5:05:49 AM PST by zx2dragon
If projections for success of technology come true, and cost issues are resolved, South Africa could see a sharp rise in demand in platinum. GENERAL Motors (GM) now devotes about half of its research and development to it; China and the European Union have announced government backing for it; and Anglo Platinum has just invested ZAR 320 million (US$35 million) in it. Fuel-cell technology has developed sufficient momentum to make a range of governments and industries particularly the platinum industry start revising their plans. At the moment, the use of platinum for fuel cells is tiny, perhaps a few thousand ounces. South Africa produces 4,1-million ounces of platinum a year of the global 6,1-million ounces production. According to Anglo Platinum spokesman Mike Mtakati, over the longer term, fuel cells will be the dominant driver of the platinum industry. Anticipating fuel cell demand is one of the reasons why it plans to lift its production from about 2-million ounces to 3,5-million ounces a year, adding about 13,000 employees to its current payroll of 40,000.
"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," says speciality chemicals group Johnson Matthey.
But the fuel cell technology faces a huge obstacle: cost. HSBC oil analyst Paul Clark says the problem for alternative fuel sources is that oil is so cheap compared to the amount of energy it produces. It is also backed by a massive existing infrastructure that will need to be replaced for any new technology to work. "Alternative fuel sources have tended to be just a little more expensive than the existing systems and the economics just don't seem to work out," he says. For example, the cost difference between an internal combustion engine and a fuel cell engine of the same horsepower is about ten to one. But the flip side is that the cost of producing the fuel cell car engines has come down by about ten times in the past decade.
To address the cost question, GM took the opportunities that an electrically powered car would provide to redesign the motor car from scratch. The result is the Autonomy, which looks like an oversized skateboard. The intention is to use this base for a variety of car types, allowing GM to streamline production and cut costs.
The potential of fuel cells is partly seen in Anglo Platinum's announcement earlier this month that it had bought 17,5% of refiner Johnson Matthey's fuel cells unit for GBP 20 million (US$ 31 million).
Fuel cells "could be very important for the industry but it is almost a fool's game to guess the exact timing", says Marcus Nurdin of the International Platinum Association, an industry body. According to one industry research document, the 500000 ounces demand by 2010 for fuel cell use is not impossible.
(Excerpt) Read more at fuelcelltoday.com ...
We put man on the moon... bring on the fuel cells!! </rant off>