Market development and beneficiation

Most of the platinum that is mined today is used in the manufacture of catalytic convertors in vehicle exhaust systems. Together with fine jewellery, autocatalysts consume more than 70% of the world’s platinum supply.

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MARKET DEVELOPMENT AND BENEFICIATION

It is important to invest in developing sustainable markets for PGMs, as applications for these unique metals are largely derived. Together with various partners, the Company invests in a portfolio of activities from lab-scale research and product development to investments in early stage commercialisation of products that drive PGM demand in the longer term. As far as possible, market development opportunities are located or focused on South Africa in order to facilitate beneficiation of the metals produced.

Overall, the Company invests in market development and beneficiation across four broad areas:

  • Developing the platinum jewellery market, both locally and internationally.
  • Funding of research into PGM applications at South African universities and research institutes.
  • Development and commercialisation of fuel cells.
  • Establishment of the PGM Development Fund to invest in local, early stage industrial businesses that consume PGMs.

Jewellery development

Together with other platinum producers, the Company supports the Platinum Guild International (PGI). The PGI has provided sales support and training to all levels of the global jewellery trade for over 30 years. In addition to supplying information, practical advice and expertise to help jewellery buyers, the PGI also develops targeted marketing campaigns to stimulate interest – and sales – in platinum jewellery around the world.

In South Africa, the Company invests in building design and manufacturing capability, providing affordable metal access to platinum jewellers, and stimulating demand for platinum jewellery.

The Company continued to support five training institutes which are geared to provide instruction on platinum jewellery design and manufacturing to students. In addition, the Company supported the Small Enterprise Development Agency Platinum Incubator in Rustenburg. This initiative, run by the Department of Trade and Industry, offers training in business skills for small jewellery manufacturers.

In line with Government’s beneficiation objectives, the Company continued to provide a metal consignment scheme to facilitate the local jewellery industry. The scheme allows for extended payment terms and gives jewellers the ability to manage price volatility.

This year, the Company ran its 14th PlatAfrica design and manufacture competition, attracting a record 137 entries from professionals, apprentices and students. The pieces submitted under the “Red Carpet Platinum” theme showcased local design talent and high-quality workmanship. The annual competition and related media campaign raises consumer and retail awareness for platinum jewellery in the country.

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Research collaborations

Both Government and the Company realise that the development of local products can only be enabled by strengthening research capacity and building skills in the fields of science and engineering. To this end, the Company supports various PGM research programmes at South African universities and at the CSIR. Some of the programmes are undertaken in collaboration with international researchers, allowing for transfer of skills and access to new methodologies and equipment.

While these programmes are starting to show pleasing results, they are still in very early stages of development and are reviewed regularly. It is hoped that successful research results can lead to the development and commercialisation of new PGM applications which drive demand in the longer term and establish new industries in South Africa.

Fuel-cell product development

table90 A key development area for platinum is in accelerating the use of platinum-based fuel cells for the small- and large-scale provision of electricity in mobile, stationary and portable applications. Fuel cells are efficient, versatile and scaleable and offer significant medium- to long-term demand for platinum.

This technology:

  • facilitates switching from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles
  • improves availability of electricity in emerging economies with low rates of electrification
  • provides a more energy- and carbon-efficient solution in numerous other applications

The Company identified uses for fuel cells in its own operations and is currently investing in the development of underground fuel-cell locomotives and mining cap lamps, together with its partners. The first prototypes of both products are currently being tested in order to refine the design parameters and the business cases for these products to be commercialised in the country.

Beyond mining, the Company is also investing in the development of a fuel-cell home generator product designed to provide efficient, reliable power to off-grid, rural communities. In parallel with the technical product development activities, the Company is focusing its efforts on creating a local manufacturing strategy and securing off-take as part of the commercialisation process.

FUELLING DEMAND FOR PLATINUM

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Hydrogen fuel-cell being demonstrated at COP17

Nissan joined the existing fuel-cell alliance between Ford and Daimler to develop affordable fuel-cell electric vehicles that automakers hope to have on the road by 2017.

The three companies are trying to keep up with Toyota which has said it will start selling fuel-cell vehicles in 2015. Honda, Hyundai and Kia have also said they will offer a fuel-cell vehicle in 2015.

BMW and Toyota, too, have signed agreements aimed at long-term collaboration for the joint development of a fuel-cell system, along with architecture and components for a sports vehicle, light-weight technologies and a “post-lithium”-air battery. The companies are aiming for the project to be completed in 2020.

While fuel-cell vehicles remain limited today, they should grow to a 1.8 billion dollar market by 2030 at a compounded annual growth rate of 22%. Forecasts predict that 63,000 fuel-cell passenger vehicles will be sold globally in 2030 together with 62,000 forklifts and only around 304 units of fuel-cell buses.

These numbers are low compared with current sales numbers of cars with combustion engines. However, this might change with more series vehicles and better infrastructure because a major hurdle remains the need for networks of hydrogen stations.

PGM Development Fund

The Platinum Group Metal Development Fund (PGMDF) was established by the Company to increase the use and application of PGMs in South Africa by investing in entities that support PGM product development or that use PGM technology in their products or processes. The fund provides capital to innovators and entrepreneurs in early-stage development and commercialisation of PGM technology with a focus on local beneficiation.

To date, the fund, together with the Department of Science and Technology and USA-based Altergy Systems, has invested in Clean Energy Investments Proprietary Limited. Clean Energy provides fuel-cell-based back-up power solutions into the telecommunications industry with the aim of initially localising installation, maintenance and fuelling. Once critical volumes are reached, fuel-cell units are expected to be assembled and manufactured in South Africa.

REACH

Anglo American Platinum had no REACH obligations in 2012. It met its REACH obligations by successfully submitting the required dossiers to the European Chemicals Agency for four of its products, namely nickel metal, copper metal, cobalt sulphate and secondary leach concentrates. The target date for submission for the next group of products is December 2013.

In 2012, Amplats was actively involved in the different REACH consortiums to which it is a signatory.

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Platinum jewellery and accessories being modelled

 

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A fine example of platinum jewellery

 

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Chris Griffith at the 2012 PlatAfrica Jewellery Design Awards

 

 

 

 

UNDERGROUND FUEL-CELL LOCOMOTIVES

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Hydrogen fuel cell at COP17

A key area of use into which platinum will be developing is that of platinum-based fuel cells.

Basically, a fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from  a fuel into electricity, and does this through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidising agent. Various fuels can be used in the process, but the most common one is hydrogen gas.

Fuel cells are different from batteries in that they require a constant source of fuel and oxygen to run, but their main advantage is that they can produce electricity continuously for as long as these inputs are supplied. Fuel cells thus provide round-the-clock electricity. They also result in less downtime and increased productivity, since there is no longer any need to change or charge the batteries they replace.

In addition to their 24/7 efficiency, fuel cells are versatile: able to provide electricity in stationary, mobile and portable applications, they can also be adapted for small- or large-scale applications. The technology is capable of:

  • facilitating the switch from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles
  • improving the availability of electricity in emerging economies with low rates of electrification
  • providing a more energy- and carbon-efficient solution in numerous other applications

With the future in mind and given our extensive operations and our desire for safe, sustainable platinum, we have identified ideal uses for fuel cells in our own operations. One such opportunity is represented by our underground mining locomotives. Here Trident South Africa and Battery Electric – two original equipment manufacturers − were partnered with fuel-cell developers Vehicle Projects Inc. to demonstrate the superior energy efficiency and productivity of fuel-cell-powered locomotives.

The project also involved the partnership between Anglo American Platinum Limited and Ballard Power Systems. This collaboration has entailed working on a number of early-stage stationary and motive power applications of fuel cells in the South African market.  
The locomotives use Ballard PEMFC stacks, which contain platinum as a catalyst.

The new technology is believed to offer environmentally friendlier and safer means of underground transportation.

Used underground, fuel-cell-powered vehicles offer the mobility, power and safety characteristics of a diesel unit combined with the environmental cleanliness of a battery vehicle. Lower recurring costs, reduced ventilation costs compared with those  
for diesel vehicles and higher vehicle productivity could make the fuel-cell mine vehicle cost competitive several years before the technology is used above ground.

Our first fuel-cell locomotive prototype was launched at our Khomanani Mine in Rustenburg in April 2012. The Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu, had this to say in praising the innovative step:

“We welcome the launch of the fuel-cell locomotive as a sign of commitment from industry to proactively transform and contribute to national strategic objectives. This particular case touches upon several key strategic priorities − development of the mineral sector, beneficiation, industrial development, an environmentally friendly economy, development of a knowledge economy and job creation.”

The metal-hydride storage unit permits the dense, energy-efficient and ultra-safe storage of hydrogen for underground operations. It is safe because in it hydrogen is stored as part of a solid material and can be released only in a slow, controlled manner. Designed to store 3.5 kg of hydrogen (with approximately 50 kWh in electrical output at the fuel cell), it is refuelled underground in 10 to 20 minutes from a hydrogen source at 20 bar pressure.

The entire power-dense locomotive power module (consisting of fuel cell, battery, hydride storage, cooling system and power electronics) requires a volume of only 1 cubic metre, which can easily fit within the design of both new and existing locomotives.

To date, the locomotive prototype has undergone various tests on surface to determine its performance and reliability parameters. Surface testing will continue into early 2013, to determine the efficiencies, reliability and effectiveness of the new technology in comparison with those of the current product; and to ensure that the latest version of the fuel-cell power pack is capable of withstanding the rough underground testing conditions needed to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals for safe underground operation from the Department of Mineral Resoures.

Once all troubleshooting has been carried out above ground, the locomotive will begin to be tested underground and a suitable test site is being sought for this.

It is also crucial to prepare and train our employees for the new behaviours required of them when we introduce this alternative equipment. The need for such training cannot be over-emphasised, and will be integrated into Amplats’ safety strategy.