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Hydrogen cars can help SA step on the gas

This would spur demand for platinum, which is used in the cell, Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom told Parliament on Thursday at his department’s budget vote.

The country’s beleaguered platinum producers – which includes Lonmin, owner of the Marikana mine which is the site of continued labour rest – have felt the brunt of low platinum prices and oversupply in the market. In fact, earlier this year Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) had attempted to close some of its mines to reduce platinum supply and spur demand.

South Africa has about 75% of known deposits of the metal.

Hanekom was reporting on the department’s efforts with regards to the Hydrogen South Africa Centres of Competence, and announcing a memorandum of understanding to develop hydrogen and fuel-cell vehicle platforms and technologies between the University of the Western Cape, Coventry University in the United Kingdom and Microlab Industries, which was founded by an academic at Coventry and developed the Microlab hydrogen-fuelled vehicle.

In the budget vote earlier this year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan earmarked R6.2-billion for the department of science and technology for 2013-14.

“Almost all of this [about 92%] goes to our science councils and agencies, and to other research institutions, including universities,” Hanekom said.

However, eyes are on what steps the department is taking to realise the recommendation of the ministerial review into the science, technology and innovation landscape. In 2010, former science and technology minister Naledi Pandor, now home affairs minister, commissioned a review of the landscape, which was published last year.

Making 'good progress'
The recommendations ranged from the innocuous, such as the formation of a science oversight and statistical body, to the politically sensitive, such as making teaching at all levels an essential service.

Hanekom said the department was making “good progress” with the review recommendations, announcing that they had secured R500-million over the next three years from the Economic Competitiveness Fund to “strengthen innovation and research partnerships with industry”; and that there would be the first multi-stakeholder meeting between the government and industry in July this year.

A sore spot for the department is the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which was established in 2008 to bridge the gap between the invention and marketable product. For this year, the department has allocated the TIA R482-million.

The ministerial review found that the TIA had to be reviewed in terms of its “fit for purpose”, surprising for such a young entity. A new board has been appointed, as the TIA Act of 2008 states that board nominations must take place every four years. Hanekom said that the review had been completed and its findings conveyed to the new board and the department, however the findings have not been made public.

In terms of budget allocations, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research will receive R782-million, the National Research Foundation R1.1-billion, the Human Sciences Research Council R224-million and the South African National Space Agency R112-million.

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Sarah Wild
Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didnt work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africas Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards.

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