Fuel cell technology now powering military field hospital in Pretoria

19TH AUGUST 2020




South African hydrogen energy company Bambili Energy will be able to start delivering production hydrogen fuel cells during next year, company CEO Zanele Mavuso Mbatha tells Engineering News. Seven prototype containerised hydrogen fuel cells produced by the company are now being used to power a field hospital at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria. This field hospital was set up as part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The official launch of the fuel cell power plant at the hospital took place on Wednesday. Bambili is a black woman-owned company which operates within the sphere of the hydrogen economy. It is focused on the commercialisation of intellectual property (IP) developed by the Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) programme. HySA is an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and was launched in 2007.


Five of the fuel cells have been produced by Bambili in a technology partnership with Singapore company Horizon and US enterprise Element One. Horizon is a specialist fuel cell company while Element One manufactures reformers. As a result of this partnership, both companies will incorporate South African IP into their products. The remaining two fuel cells have been produced in cooperation with Powercell Sweden.

“I wanted to be able to use the best technology and manufacture fuel cells in South Africa,” she explains. “The best in class [technology] internationally and the best in class in South Africa.”


The field hospital fuel cell initiative is also being supported by Air Products, Protea Chemicals and Sasol, making it a public-private partnership. Sasol will be donating 10 000 litres of methanol and 600 kg of hydrogen every month to ‘feed’ the fuel cells. Air Products and Protea Chemicals will be providing logistical (delivery) support. On the public side, in addition to the DSI, the initiative also involves the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure. 

“Hydrogen fuel cell technology is globally recognised for its potential to decarbonise the energy and transport sectors,” highlighted the DSI in its statement. “Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by means of chemical reaction, using hydrogen as the basic fuel together with platinum-based catalysts. They are efficient, reliable, safe and quiet, ensuring a non-intrusive standby and primary power solution.”

Mavuso Mbatha’s background lies in the platinum group metals (PGMs) sector. “I was interested in the beneficiation of platinum,” she explains. “Hydrogen fuel cells are the beneficiation of PGMs.” Bambili Energy was set up three years ago.