Cape Town - Government is aiming to drive up demand for platinum by developing hydrogen fuel cell technology, Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said on Thursday.
Opening debate in the National Assembly on his department's R6.2bn budget vote, he told MPs a memorandum of understanding had been signed between the University of the Western Cape, Coventry University and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle producer Microcab Industries in the United Kingdom.
"The [memorandum] will see Microcab using HySA [Hydrogen South Africa] technologies, with the prospect of HySA becoming a major supplier to Microcab," Hanekom said.
HySA is a government flagship project that aims, according to its website, "to establish South Africa as one of the few nations that export high-value products into the growing international hydrogen and fuel cells market".
Hydrogen fuel cells are relatively expensive to produce, and require platinum as a catalyst.
Hanekom said even a modest increase in the use of fuel-cell powered vehicles would push up platinum demand.
"It is worth noting that even a modest increase in the global penetration of fuel-cell powered vehicles will result in a significant increase in the demand for platinum, and will contribute to our target of meeting 25% of global catalyst demand by 2020.
"Our nation holds almost three-quarters of the world's known resources of platinum, so this would be a very, very significant development," he said.
Government was also looking at developing lithium-ion batteries, which would include the use of manganese. This was aimed at the solar and wind energy sector, where there was a need for better energy-storage devices.
"Our main focus at this stage is on lithium-ion battery technologies. Some of the novel battery systems we are developing are based on manganese, and - given that South Africa has 80% of the world's manganese reserves - this represents another significant beneficiation opportunity."
Hanekom also told the House that government's Titanium Industry Development Initiative was "making impressive progress".
More than R75 million would be invested in this over the next two years, through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
"A key activity is the development of a novel, low-cost process for the production of titanium metal powder, which will provide South Africa with a global competitive advantage.
"A pilot plant, with the capacity to produce two kilograms of titanium powder per hour, is currently under construction at the CSIR campus in Pretoria. It will be officially launched next month."
Titanium, a corrosion-resistant metal, is crucial in the production of strong, lightweight alloys.