Durban – INTERNATIONAL investors have committed R165.6 million to the development of the country’s first fuel cell factory in Dube TradePort.
CHEM Energy, a subsidiary of Taiwanese conglomerate CHEM Corporation, announced the opening of the fuel cell production factory in the province’s Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone on Tuesday.
CHEM Energy president Angelin Maharaj said that the development of the state-of-the-art fuel cell factory had begun in September 2019 and was completed on schedule in March 2020.
Full operations had been hampered by the lockdown to fight the spread of Covid-19, but the firm had continued to support its installed systems throughout the Vodacom network, he said.
Maharaj said the new plant was the firm’s flagship for its latest fuel cell product, the G5, and one of the most advanced factories of its kind in the world.
A fuel cell is an electromechanical energy conversion device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electrical energy and water.
Fuel cells are used to power telecommunications infrastructure, rural communities, electric vehicles, trucks, buses and forklifts.
“Fuel cells are no longer a thing of the future. South Africa can ensure a reliable communications network and power to everyone, anywhere, at any time without importing polluting diesel generators, diesel fuel and batteries, using fuel cells and fuel made in South Africa, by South Africans, and playing a key role in rebuilding the economy,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj said CHEM Energy had invested in South Africa to serve the South Africa market and it was an “ideal” launch market for Sub-Saharan Africa.
“South Africa has about 30 000 telecoms sites and Vodacom already has 300 CHEM fuel cells in their network, which have been operating for about 10 years, commercially proving the technology. We had also already established the repairs, maintenance and refuelling of fuel cells locally, through a strategic sales and service partner, 24 Solutions,” he said.
“It is also, very importantly a reference for entering into the Sub Saharan African market, which has about 300 000 telecommunication towers, and is 10 times the size of the SA telecoms market, so there is vast export potential,” he said.
Maharaj said the factory had capacity to produce 1 500 fuel cells a year, operating on one working shift, which would double once a second shift was introduced. At full capacity, the factory would create 50 highly skilled jobs, as well as hundreds of jobs downstream in the value chains.
Hal Koyama, director of CHEM Energy, said fuel cells enabled immediate and rapid deployment to rural areas to provide power to villages, clinics, schools and informal settlements where the Eskom grid was not available.
“With this technology, South Africa now has the capability to ensure its cellular networks are protected against load shedding at a critical time during this pandemic, when reliable communications is of the highest importance in the battle against the deadly Covid19 virus,” said Koyama.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, said the development was “a milestone accomplishment” for foreign investment.
“We are excited to team up with CHEM Energy and industry to help rapidly expand the adoption of this important technology, and the growth of highly skilled jobs in this new industry sector,” she said.
Dube TradePort chief executive Hamish Erskine said the development opened the door for the country to establish local supply chains to service the hi-tech manufacturing plant.