Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor MP, second annual Resource-Driven Technology Concept for South Africa conference, Kwa-Maritane Bush Lodge, Pilanesberg
12 Aug 2010
Mr Roland Gustafsson, Head of the Volvo Technology Corporation, Sweden, Project Director Next Generation Vehicle Europe and Chairperson of RETECZA
Mr Pierre Terblanche, Pierre Terblanche Design, Italy
Dr Wolfgang Diehl, Deputy Director, Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films
Dr Lothar Schäfer, Head of the Department of Diamond Technology, Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films
Mr Hermann Oelsner, CEO of the Oelsner Group and Chairperson of the African Wind Energy Association
Mr Johan van den Berg, Director of Carbon Finance, BioTherm Energy
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for the invitation to speak here today.
I know you plan to discuss water purification, wind turbines and e-bikes, but you will forgive me if I just focus on the hydrogen e-bike.
Let me start by saying how pleased I am that such an important collaboration like RETECZA is working on energy innovation in the transport sector.
I was even more pleased to hear that this innovative collaboration focussed on the bicycle, a mode of transport that almost all of us can afford.
You see, I inherited an electric car project in the Department Science and Technology (DST), but when I was briefed about the scale and prospect of the project I immediately asked myself what the DST was doing about bicycles? So I was immensely pleased to hear that the DST was also involved in an e-bike project.
I will tell you why.
Electric bikes are a huge part of the future green transport economy. In many ways, the future of e-bikes can be seen in what has happened in China over the last decade.
The growth in the number of electric bikes in China has been spectacular. In 1998 there were a mere 400,000 electric bikes in China. In 2008 there were 21 million. Now that is something.
E-bikes are now cheaper than any other motorised mode of transport in China and China is exporting these bikes to the world.
This e-bike phenomenon has also made it into song. Some of you will have heard Katie Melua’s beautiful song ‘Nine million bicycles’ (in Beijing)?
Can we use our natural advantages and our technological innovation to replicate this Chinese phenomenon in South Africa?
Some say yes, some say no. When this project first began to be talked about in the DST, a senior DST official remarked that bikes would never take off in South Africa. Why? It was a cultural thing. South Africans need cars, he said. Well I disagree. The majority of South Africans need bicycles. And I hope the success of the RETECZA project on this issue will prove him wrong.
We have encouraged bicycles as a mode of transport in the past.
In 2007 the Transport Ministry launched Shova Kalula (Pedal Easy), a partnership with the private sector and civil society that planned to give a million bicycles to school children by 2015 and to construct dedicated bicycle pathways.
There has to be some synergy between Shova Kalula and your ‘ahi fambeni’, the hydrogen-fuelled e-bicycle prototype that is launched today.
Apparently the plan is to start with a bike, then a trike, and then a car.
I have heard that bike-trike-car trajectory before. It reminds me of the plans of Clive Sinclair, an inventor, who invented the little C5 in the 1980s. The C5 was a very small electric car - a trike - that was going to expand in the fullness of time into a proper car. I remember seeing these odd things lying on the pavements of high streets in London, where they washed up and served as sign board to whatever was on sale in shops.
Yet he was an unusual man, not one to be knocked down by a failure or two.
He made those little pocket calculators, black digital watches, and pocket televisions way ahead of the frontier of innovation.
He was also the man who launched a computer in the 1980s that he hoped would change the world. Alas it only changed the way people played primitive computer games, but it turned him into a hero in his lifetime.
We need inventors like him to be heroes in their own lifetimes here in South Africa.
Perhaps an inventor is too old fashioned a concept.
Who is the inventor of the "Ahi Fambeni”, the e-bike concept we launch today?
The bike has no inventor. The bike is going to propelled by energy coming from a fuel cell, an idea that was invented in the 1830s, but has never been widely commercially successful.
Fuel cells work by combining two of the most abundant of the earth’s elements, oxygen and hydrogen, to create a clean source of power and heat.
However, hydrogen is incredibly difficult to store and distribute. That is the problem. But it is so attractive - it has zero emissions of greenhouse gases or other pollutants. It is what we need now in a global economy threatened by the consequences of climate change. That is why the hydrogen economy is a billion-dollar research industry.
We want to be part of this industry, so that we can add value to our most precious resources.
As yet we are bit players as a country in this industry, but we have ambitious plans.
Hydrogen SA’s (our hydrogen and fuel cell strategy) long-term aims are to develop high value-added manufacturing of PGM catalysts for the world fuel cell market, with a target of 25 percent of this market by 2020; to develop competitive processes for the production of hydrogen, using already existing South African expertise; and to increase local content in finished products.
We took an encouraging step towards our target last month when the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and its private-sector partner in the beneficiation of platinum group metals, Anglo Platinum Ltd, signed a deal with a US company, Altergy Systems Corporation, to set up a fuel-cell manufacturing facility in South Africa.
Similarly I can see what lies ahead for the RETECZA e-bike.
Designed by Mr Pierre Terblanche, an internationally-renowned bike designer, and built by students at Tshwane University of Technology, it will inspire invention and innovation among young South African.
Hydrogen SA Systems developed the hydrogen-storage technology. As space on the bike was limited, Hydrogen SA Systems had to innovate in customising the design of the hydrogen storage unit to increase heat-exchange efficiency.
Another important thing to note about this bicycle is that it serves as a proof of concept for metal hydride technology developed by HySA Systems.
“Ahi Fambeni” offers a practical way to promote public awareness of hydrogen and fuel cell technology as a clean energy alternative.
No country will be able to resolve the interconnected challenges of global change, energy security, and environmental sustainability on its own.
Our long-term goal is to use our science and technology to develop new industries, create sustainable jobs, and equip ourselves with the capacity to address modern global challenges. And we envisage doing this through partnerships such as RETECZA.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
12 Aug 2010
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