Amplats, BMW, Sasol join forces for hydrogen vehicles in South Africa

Anglo American Platinum, BMW and Sasol plan to work together to develop infrastructure that will encourage the production and use of hydrogen-powered vehicles in South Africa.

BMW will provide its fuel-cell iX5 sport utility vehicle, while Sasol will supply green hydrogen, according to the companies.

Amplats, which mines platinum group metals used in fuel-cell electric vehicles, will work with the partners “to help develop a local green hydrogen mobility ecosystem,” they said in a statement.

Hydrogen vehicles are struggling to take off because of high costs and a fledgling fueling infrastructure.

Two years ago, Sasol, a top emitter of greenhouse gases in South Africa, partnered with Toyota on a pilot project to research the use of the fuel along freight corridors, while Anglo American invested as much as $70 million on a 220-ton hydrogen-fueled vehicle.

There are only about 60,000 fuel-cell cars on the road across the world. That compares with a fleet of roughly 19 million battery-electric vehicles, according to BloombergNEF estimates.

BMW is “still trialling” the technology that uses green hydrogen as it gauges the market and will need to see lower costs, Peter van Binsbergen, CEO of BMW Group South Africa, told reporters at a Cape Town conference.

A fuel infrastructure would need to follow in order to move toward a bigger rollout, he said. 

The global transition to lower carbon sources of energy will pose a challenge for the country, which relies on coal-fired power plants for most of its electricity generation.

The nation also faces high unemployment, which could worsen through any potential erosion of demand for its minerals.

Around 172,000 people work in the platinum sector, according to the government. “We’re protecting those environments” through the development of green hydrogen, South African Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said at the conference.

Its Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces signed a collaboration to boost green hydrogen through shared infrastructure.

The country has also held talks with Namibia and Angola to coordinate plans in the region to develop the fuel. 

There has been “tremendous interest” around investment in green hydrogen, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an online address at the conference.

The agreement by Amplats, Sasol and BMW demonstrates the momentum the technology has gained, he said. “We’re willing, ready, and prepared to listen to what the private sector has to say.”