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Miner pioneers fuel cell technology in underground operations

13 May, 2012

Demonstrating its commitment to the mitigation of climate change and sustainable mining, Anglo American Platinum has launched a platinum-based fuel cell powered mine locomotive prototype.

This industry leading project was delivered in collaboration with Vehicle Projects, Trident South Africa, and Battery Electric, and will see this partnership construct five fuel cell locomotives which will be tested for underground use at one of Anglo American Platinum’s mines.

As part of Anglo American Platinum’s commitment to the development of fuel cells, in 2011 the company identified uses for fuel cells in its own operations. Mining locomotives were identified as an ideal opportunity. Partners were identified through a global search to pioneer this development. Current original equipment manufacturers were integrated with the fuel cell developers to ensure seamless system integration.

Anglo American Platinum, with its partners, aims to demonstrate the superior energy efficiency and productivity of fuel-cell powered locomotives. The new technology is also believed to offer environmentally friendly and safer means of underground transportation.

Cynthia Carroll, Chief Executive of Anglo American plc and Chairperson of Anglo American Platinum Limited, commented: "This event marks 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. 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", Carroll said.

Hydrogen powered fuel cell locomotives are more economical and environmentally friendly than traditional rail transport, powered by a clean 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.

Neville Nicolau, Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American Platinum, commented: "These innovative locomotives will provide us with an opportunity to mine platinum in a more economic, energy-secure, and environmentally-benign manner. The locomotives will not require any electricity from the grid to function and will not emit noxious gases."

Anglo American Platinum is collaborating with the South African government and technology partners to further explore prospects of fuel cells as an integral part of the energy sources that contribute to reduced carbon footprint. By establishing the Platinum Group Metals Development Fund (PGMDF), Anglo American Platinum is working towards expanding industrialisation and beneficiation of Platinum Group Metals (PGMs). The fund partners with innovators and entrepreneurs in PGM technologies and has identified opportunities in fuel cell technology.

Fuel cell technology is seen as a strategic and emerging industry that is aligned with the vision and purpose of both the PGMDF as well as that of the Department of Science and Technology. Anglo American Platinum, the Departments of Mineral Resources and Science and Technology are working together to encourage and support greater local beneficiation of platinum.

The partnership with government seeks to understand and highlight the key levers to the development of the fuel cell industry as well as develop the roadmap for successful implementation. 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.

"We know that the challenges we face around climate change cannot be tackled in isolation and partnership is critical in order to create practical, long-term solutions. We are confident that we have developed a viable technology as a result of our collaboration with Vehicle Projects, Trident South Africa, and Battery Electric and are excited to share the results with our stakeholders." Nicolau added.

Surface testing of the fuel cell powered locomotive is planned to take place at the mine during the third quarter. After the initial testing period the fuel cell powered locomotives will be integrated as part of a mining operation.

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