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Amplats Trials World’s First Fuel Cell-Powered Electricity Grid

Anglo American Platinum Ltd. said it is testing the world’s first fuel cell-driven grid in South Africa as an alternative electricity source for remote areas where expanding the national network would be too costly.

Amplats, as the world’s largest producer of platinum is known, and Ballard Power Systems Inc. will power 34 households for a 12-month period with a prototype, which is fueled by methanol and uses platinum group metals as catalysts, Chris Griffith, chief executive officer of the Johannesburg-based unit of Anglo American Plc, said today at a presentation at the Naledi Trust rural community near Kroonstad, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Johannesburg.

The successful completion of this phase will see the technology being rolled out “with a pilot test of 200 to 300 units in villages across rural South Africa by 2015,” the country’s Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources Godfrey Oliphant said at the presentation.

The system is designed to provide a total of 15 kW of fuel cell-generated electric power and can supply as much as 70 kW with the support of batteries,’’ Amplats said in an e-mailed statement.

“The purpose of this trial is to validate technical and operating requirements,” Andrew Hinkley, Amplats’s executive head of marketing, said at the presentation. “This includes the logistics of fuel delivery” and “the consumer’s electricity utilization patterns.”

Amplats is also testing the use of platinum fuel cell-technology in mining equipment, Griffith said. Methanol-fuelled systems are already used as a backup source of power on telecommunications masts, said Karim Kassam, Burnaby, British Columbia-based Ballard’s vice-president of business development.

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