Mining business Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) of Johannesburg, South Africa, is funding a project to build five fuel-cell mine locomotives, which will be demonstrated in Amplats’ Dishaba underground mine in Limpopo province, South Africa.
Vehicle Projects Inc, a US firm that develops turnkey prototype fuel cell vehicles, is prime contractor and will be responsible for engineering design, fabrication, and testing of the fuel-cell power plant and reversible metal-hydride storage system.
“The purpose of the innovative vehicles is to mine platinum in a more economical, energy-secure, and environmentally-benign manner,” said Vehicle Projects president Dr Arnold Miller. “The locomotives will not require any electricity from the grid to function, and will not emit any noxious gases.”
VP’s hybrid fuel-cell power plant employs Ballard proton-exchange membrane stacks and K2 Energy lithium-ion batteries. Continuous fuel cell net power is 17kW, and together with the traction battery, maximum net power is 45kW for approximately 10 minutes. The power plant will fit within a 0.1m3 box, and the volume of the power plant plus battery is 0.5m3. Low-temperature waste heat from the power plant is the source of energy to store, release, and distribute hydrogen in the vehicle.
The reversible metal-hydride storage unit is designed to provide hydrogen-dense, energy-efficient, ultra-safe storage of hydrogen for underground operations. It will be able to store 3.5kg of hydrogen (50kWh electrical output at the fuel cell) and be refuelled underground from 20 bar hydrogen in 10-20 minutes. During refuelling, either waste mine water or ambient mine air will cool the hydride bed. Operating hydrogen pressure is only 10 bar gauge. The storage unit will fit within a 0.3m3 box.
The entire locomotive power module – fuel cells, batteries, hydride storage, cooling system, and power electronics – requires only 1m3 of volume.
When testing of the power module is complete (expected in March or April 2012), the unit will be shipped to Vehicle Projects’ locomotive project partner Trident South Africa in Johannesburg for integration into a Trident 10-tonne New Era locomotive.
Integration, locomotive testing, and demonstration, initially at the Trident surface test track, will be assisted by Vehicle Projects project partner Battery Electric (Pty) Ltd of Johannesburg.
Amplats is the world’s leading primary producer of platinum group metals. Platinum is an important component of fuel cells, so the company has an interest in encouraging development and adoption of the technology.
Vehicle Projects develops turnkey prototype fuel-cell vehicles and has been involved in several previous locomotive demonstration projects.