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South Africa targets auto sector with fuel cell plant

By Wendell Roelf | February 9 2017

(Reuters) Africa’s first fuel cell component plant using platinum as a catalyst will start production by December aiming to take advantage of rising demand for clean energy cars, officials from Isondo Precious Metals said.

Isondo has secured a license from U.S-based Chemours Technology to assemble components for fuel cells using platinum, which has mainly been used in catalysts to clean up car emissions. South Africa is the world’s top platinum producer and has the largest reserves of the precious metal.

Vinay Somera, chief executive of Isondo Precious Metals, said tax breaks, relatively cheap labor costs and access to raw materials should give the plant a competitive advantage.

“We are not re-inventing the wheel, we are going for what is available but locating the manufacturing here while doing it cheaper and at the same standard internationally,” Somera said at an African mining conference in Cape Town.

Isondo was looking at venture capital funds and other investors to help to raise around 120 million rand ($9 million) needed over the next two years to expand its production line. The new plant will be located in a special economic zone either in Johannesburg or Durban on the east coast.

The number of vehicles using fuel cells has grown rapidly as car-makers including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Daimler invest in technology to cut auto emissions.

David Hart, director of Swiss-based sustainable energy consultancy, E4tech, said by 2030 there could be 1.6 million fuel cell vehicles globally.

“It is very clear that there will be more people entering this market and if you do it in five years time, it is probably too late. So, to some level it is first mover advantage and this is important,” Hart, who was also attending the mining conference, told Reuters.

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