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HySA Infrastructure: producing and using hydrogen for energy in South Africa – Part 2

Steve Barrett – Editor, Fuel Cells Bulletin

The Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) strategy aims to take better advantage of the country’s huge platinum group metal (PGM) resources. Part 2 of this article focuses on the HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence, which was officially opened at the end of May.

This article is taken from the June 2013 issue of the Fuel Cells Bulletin newsletter – check out the sample Digital Edition.

HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence

The HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence is located on two sites. The main group is based in newly refurbished facilities in the Faculty of Engineering at North-West University (NWU) in Potchefstroom, about 120 km west of Johannesburg, with a second team based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Materials Science and Manufacturing facility in Pretoria.

HySA Infrastructure is headed by its Director, Dr Dmitri Bessarabov, with enthusiastic support from Professor Frikkie van Niekerk, the NWU Deputy Vice-Chancellor with responsibility for research, innovation and technology at the university, who also acts as the centre’s Contract Director, as well as from the second centre’s Contract Director,  Dr Liesbeth Botha, Executive Director of CSIR Materials Science and Manufacturing.

The mission of HySA Infrastructure is to deliver novel technologies for hydrogen production, storage, and distribution infrastructure that meet the set cost targets. These should provide the best balance of safety, reliability, robustness, quality and functionality, and focus on local needs and export opportunities.

In the near term HySA Infrastructure aims to become a world-class centre of expertise in PEM electrochemical hydrogen compression (EHC), electrolyser systems and components, and materials and systems for hydrogen storage. It also aims to set up and spin off a new tech company – still a novelty in South Africa – and accelerate human capital development (HCD) to build up a highly skilled workforce.

As it grows the programme will enable strong international collaborations and leverage expertise, which will lead to partnership with one or more industrial key players in the sector, that could take the form of creating manufacturing opportunities in South Africa.

Alongside these goals, HySA Infrastructure will build up a strong internal IP portfolio, with a focus on:

  • Catalyst-coated membrane (CCM) and membrane-electrode assembly (MEA) design (e.g. catalyst layer structures and novel membranes) for electrolysers and EHC as well as electrolyser stack technology.
  • Balance-of-plant (BOP) components, specifically sensors for water quality and water management within systems.
  • Advanced hydrogen storage materials with PGM to enhance functional properties.
  • Optimised, cost-efficient solar-to-hydrogen and wind-to-hydrogen systems.

Inauguration of the HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence

The NWU facility was officially opened on 31 May by Derek Hanekom, the South African Minister of Science & Technology, who gave a short speech and toured the facilities.

The staff and researchers gave presentations to the HySA Advisory Board, which has been visiting all three Centres of Competence in order to review progress so far and report back to the Department of Science & Technology.

The opening of HySA Infrastructure was also celebrated by releasing a weather balloon filled with hydrogen produced by the centre’s solar-to-hydrogen system. Other guests included Dr Val Munsami, Deputy Director-General of the SA Department of Science & Technology.

‘Our long-term goal is for South Africa to become a significant supplier of material, components, products and subsystems for hydrogen-related applications,’ says DST minister Hanekom. ‘The key technologies pursued by HySA Infrastructure will focus on hydrogen storage materials, hydrogen reticulation and delivery, systems integration for hydrogen production and delivery, and platinum group metal recycling.’

HySA Advisory Board

The HySA Advisory Board was established earlier this year to provide strategic technical advice to the Department of Science & Technology, guide, and assist in assessing and aligning proposed new activities and recommending the way forward for the HySA strategy and the three Centres of Competence: HySA Infrastructure, HySA Systems Integration & Technology Validation, and HySA Catalysis.

The Board is chaired by Professor Kjell Bendiksen (Chief Scientist at the IFE Institute for Energy Technology and University of Oslo in Norway), and also includes Dr Christopher Hebling (Head of Hydrogen Technology at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Germany) and Terry Kimmel (formerly Vice President of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association), with support on IP issues from Dr Kerry Faul of the SA National Intellectual Property Management Office in Pretoria.


This article was written with significant assistance from Dr Dmitri Bessarabov, Director of HySA Infrastructure, and his colleagues while on a visit to Potchefstroom for the official opening of the HySA Infrastructure facilities at the end of May.

The sources for this article include Dr Bessarabov’s presentation at the 19th World Hydrogen Energy Conference in June 2012 in Toronto, as well as HySA Infrastructure documents and other presentations.

In Part 1: The Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) strategy.

In Part 3: HySA Infrastructure research projects.

Technical contact:

Dr Dmitri Bessarabov, Director – HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence


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