South Africa Tests Fuel Cell Powered Train

Fuel cell powered locomotive
Fuel cell powered locomotive

South Africa’s Anglo American Platinum (Angloplat) has launched the prototype of the first fuel cell powered underground locomotive, in a bid to demonstrate the viability of platinum-based fuel cells as an alternative energy source while helping the country meet its energy and job creation challenges.

Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll, speaking at last week’s launch, described the event as “a leap forward for fuel cells.

“The platinum-based hydrogen fuel cells, used to power the locomotive we are unveiling today, offer one of the most exciting opportunities for South Africa in the green economy,” Carroll said.

“At Anglo American, we believe that with platinum at its heart, a South African fuel cell industry would support the country’s drive for jobs and help to meet its energy challenges.”

According to Angloplat, hydrogen-powered fuel cell locomotives are more economical and environmentally friendly than traditional rail transport, being powered by a cleaner and more secure energy source.

A fuel cell is essentially a gas battery that produces electricity as long as it is fed with hydrogen gas. The fuel cells provide availablity 24-7, and there is no need to change or recharge the battery it replaces, which means less downtime and increased productivity.

“These innovative locomotives will provide us with an opportunity to mine platinum in a more economic, energy-secure and environmentally benign manner,” said Angloplat CEO Neville Nicolau. “The locomotives will not require any electricity from the grid to function, and will not emit noxious gases.”

The locomotive was developed in collaboration with Vehicle Projects, Trident South Africa, and Battery Electric. The partnership will construct five fuel cell locomotives which will be tested for underground use at one of Angloplat’s mines, after which they will be integrated into the company’s mining operations.

According to Angloplat, fuel cell technology is a strategic emerging industry, and the locomotive project is part of the company’s collaboration with South African government and technology partners to explore the potential of fuel cells, with an eye to the industrialisation and beneficiation of platinum group metals (PGMs).

“This collaborative work is intended to enable the development of a local fuel cell manufacturing, distribution, marketing and servicing industry which will be globally competitive,” Angloplat said.