Europe leads even though sun, wind, storage, green electrons/molecules tailor made for SA

JOHANNESBURG ( - This week the European Commission approved EUR5.4-billion of public support by 15 member states for a hydrogen technology value chain taking in hydrogen generation technology, fuel cells technology, storage technology and end-user technology. The week before, Shell started building Europe's largest renewable hydrogen plant - Holland Hydrogen I - which will be Europe's largest green hydrogen plant once operational in 2025, with the 'I' indicative of more to come. Advertisement

That followed Australia's Viva Energy ordering a platinum-using proton exchange membrane, or PEM, electrolyser from Nel Hydrogen US, which when installed, will provide green hydrogen to a fleet of heavy-duty fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), which also use platinum group metals (PGMs) to catalyse the conversion of hydrogen into electricity for vehicle mobility and, if needed, also stationary power. Airbus has joined the world's largest clean hydrogen infrastructure investment fund which is at the ready to fund credible large-scale green hydrogen projects anywhere in the world. Advertisement

Transport Canada has launched a new incentive to make it easier for business to purchase  heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles platinum-using fuel cells provide. Australia, which has aspirations to become a green hydrogen superpower, is one of the countries expected to become an exporter going forward. Cheap green hydrogen would be a massive breakthrough in clean energy, Bill Gates says on Gates Notes on LinkedIn.

Bloomberg reports that Britain is moving forward with policies to ramp up its nascent green hydrogen industry as the government looks for ways to reduce dependence on imports of natural gas...and the list could go on. Against backgrounds like these, it is little wonder that Minerals Council South Africa comprehensively outlined in a 13-slide presentation earlier this year that green hydrogen presents a "significant opportunity" for economic development in South Africa, in that it has the capacity to create jobs, monetise the platinum industry, contribute to South Africa's decarbonisation objectives and give South Africa a chance to export energy. As pointed out more recently by Anglo American Platinum CEO Natascha Viljoen, South Africa is one of only four countries that have more renewable energy available to them than what they need for themselves, which places the country in a very strong position to be able to export energy in the form of hydrogen derivatives or even as hydrogen gas or liquid hydrogen itself.

On the jobs front, South Africa's proposed Hydrogen Valley alone could potentially generate 14 0000 to 30 000+ jobs and add £3.9-billion to £8.8-billion to the economy by 2050, the Minerals Council document by its CEO Roger Baxter calculated. The Minerals Council's document on the development of the hydrogen economy in South Africa calls for the facilitation of high-level strategic thinking about the current state, potential and future of the green hydrogen economy in South Africa and globally. It proposes that South Africa Incorporated discusses what a green hydrogen industry could look like by 2030 and 2050 and suggests that an industry view of the key foundational pillars be agreed to support the establishment of a large-scale green hydrogen industry in South Africa.

This could include:

  • policy support for promoting adoption of green hydrogen technologies, including development of targets and milestones, hydrogen codes and safety standards, policy support to enable early scale up of capacity and scale;
  • tax incentives that encourage investment in research, development and innovation to help produce green hydrogen-related applications;
  • collaboratively establishing hydrogen corridors and refueling infrastructure, supply chains and green hydrogen industrial nodes;
  • engagement with original equipment manufacturers in heavy trucking, rail, sea and air transport, and in stationary base load fuel cells; and
  • consideration of skills requirements and potential changes to curricula to enable the availability of the requisite skills in the future.

GREEN HYDROGEN CORRIDOR A study spearheaded by Department of Science and Innovation, energy and services company Engie, South Africa's National Development Institute and clean energy solutions provider Bambili Energy is already at an advanced stage to identify and design hubs in Hydrogen Valley, assess economic viability and understand impacts on society. The objective is to identify at least three actionable projects to integrate hydrogen into the economy to revitalise and decarbonise key industrial sectors.

The proposed Hydrogen Valley, the Minerals Council presentation reiterates, will stretch 835 km from the Mogalakwena platinum group metals (PGM) mine near Mokopane, along the industrial and commercial corridor to Johannesburg, and to the coast south of Durban Envisaged is collaboration as part of a public-private partnership promoting the use of hydrogen fuel cell heavy duty vehicles through the development of infrastructure along key freight routes, and further builds on Anglo American's market development work to promote the adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles for commercial uses. Anglo American, through its PGM Market Development division, has contributed project coordination expertise, access to company's broad hydrogen network and financial investment to cover part of the cost of the feasibility study.

Study findings include a qualitative analysis of project's socio-economic impact and will inform guidance on the regulatory framework necessary to bring the project to life. To realise these objectives for South Africa, corridors such as the proposed Hydrogen Valley can be leveraged to kickstart the hydrogen economy, leading to cost savings through shared infrastructure investments, and leveraging an incubator for new pilot hydrogen project. Hydrogen is a key priority for South Africa and hydrogen fuels cells have been described as an alternative energy source at the highest levels of government.

The catalytic green hydrogen hubs identified in South Africa's Hydrogen Valley have been based on locations with potential for high concentration of future hydrogen demand, access to sun, wind and water infrastructure, contributions to the just energy transition - the crucial economic development plan that brings positive social benefit to impacted employees and communities The first of the three selected hubs is the Limpopo/Mogalakwena hub, where green hydrogen infrastructure will be created to fuel mining trucks active in diamond, copper, titanium, and platinum mining, with some demand from heavy-duty and medium-duty trucks driving on the national N1 freeway. The second, the Johannesburg hub, will involve a switch from grey hydrogen produced by Sasol to green hydrogen, which to meet demand as a feedstock substitute for ethylene production, steelmaking, public buildings, buses and future private buildings.

The third Durban/Richards Bay hub will fuel heavy-and medium-duty trucks on the national N3 freight corridor, port activities including handling equipment and electricity, oil refining switching from grey hydrogen, medium grade temperature heating, and some export potential. It is estimated that the green hydrogen demand of the Hydrogen Valley could reach 185 000 t of green hydrogen by 2030, or 40% (low demand case) to 80% (high demand case) of required energy. On the green hydrogen export front, South Africa would face competition from other green hydrogen exporting countries such as Morocco and Australia and from other ports in South Africa such as Boegoebaai.

In addition to significant demand from heavy-duty trucks servicing the N3 freight corridor, and public buses and buildings within Johannesburg/Durban metropoles, it is estimated that Johannesburg's green hydrogen demand could reach up to 74 000 t by 2030, driven by large hydrogen uptake from chemical manufacture in Sasolburg and steelmaking in Vereeniging. In Durban, it is estimated that hydrogen demand could reach 70 000 t by 2030, again on heavy-duty mobility along the N3 freight corridor, as fuel cell electric vehicles reach cost parity with diesel trucks. The ports of Durban and Richards Bay also present opportunities for green hydrogen with industrial demand pulp-and-paper factories, and public buildings.

Locating hydrogen supply next to existing water sources, desalination infrastructure, or implementing water recycling or truck delivery is envisaged. Existing gas pipelines could be leveraged for hydrogen transport and distribution in the longer term. Job creation estimates are based on renewable energy and storage and electrolyser investment only, whereas fuel cell investment would likely contribute to job creation as well as activities across the value chain of resources to product and logistics, as well as research and development, engineering, maintenance, and training.

The PGM sector would likely see a marginal increase in demand from the Hydrogen Valley in that PGMs are required raw materials for both fuel cell and PEM electrolyser manufacturing. The volume of platinum required for the valley would, however, only constitute a small percentage of platinum production currently, worth about £70-million to the South African PGMs at the high end. Meanwhile, renewable energy and storage are regularly being declared the fastest, cheapest and cleanest way to bring new energy online.

As pointed out to Mining Weekly by ABB regional sales manager mining for Africa and Australia Erik Pretorius, if the world were to electrify every mine truck, it would stop 198 000 t of carbon dioxide (CO2) a day from entering the atmosphere, which equates to a single electrified mining truck eliminating what would take 46 000 trees to absorb, which seems like something mines should be obliged to do Anglo American's 510 t nuGen(TM) zero-emission haulage system is impressively taking the lead in this and is planning the decarbonisation of its total global fleet of 400 haul trucks, as well as providing refuelling, recharging, and facilitation of hydrogen production. Shell's 200MW electrolyser, which will be constructed on the Tweede Maasvlakte in the port of Rotterdam, will produce up to 60 000 kg of green hydrogen a day, with the renewable power for the electrolyser coming from the offshore wind farm Hollandse Kust Noord, which is partly owned by Shell.

The renewable hydrogen produced will supply the Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rotterdam, by way of the HyTransPort pipeline, where it will replace some of the grey hydrogen usage in the refinery. This will partially decarbonise the facility's production of energy products like petrol and diesel and jet fuel. As heavy-duty trucks are coming to market and refuelling networks grow, renewable hydrogen supply can also be directed toward these to help in decarbonising commercial road transport.

"Renewable hydrogen will play a pivotal role in the energy system of the future and this project is an important step in helping hydrogen fulfil that potential," said Shell Emerging Energy Solutions EVP Anna Mascolo. Shell owns and operates around 10% of the global capacity of installed hydrogen electrolysers, including a 20 MW electrolyser in China, capable of producing 3 000 t of hydrogen a year, and a 10 MW platinum-using PEM electrolyser in Germany, which has a capacity to produce 1 300 t of hydrogen a year. The joining by Airbus has joined the world's largest clean hydrogen infrastructure investment fund, managed by Hy24 - a joint venture between Ardian, a world-leading private investment house and FiveTHydrogen, an investment manager specialising in clean hydrogen investments -- follows Airbus partnering with several airlines, airports, energy providers and industry partners to develop a stepped approach to global hydrogen availability.

The European Commission approval of EUR5.4-billion took in backing from Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. The public funding is expected to unlock additional EUR8.8-billion in private investments as 35 companies with activities in one or more 15 member states are small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups, which will participate in 41 projects Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "Hydrogen has a huge potential going forward.

It is an indispensable component for the diversification of energy sources and the green transition." Commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton said: "Promoting hydrogen development and deployment will boost jobs and growth throughout Europe while contributing to our green and resilience agenda." The funding will cover a wide part of the hydrogen technology value chain, including the generation of hydrogen, fuel cells, storage, transportation and distribution of hydrogen, and end-user applications, in particular in the mobility sector.

It is expected to contribute to the development of important technological breakthroughs, including new highly efficient electrode materials, more performant fuel cells, innovative transport technologies, among which first time roll out hydrogen mobility ones. The initiative is expected to create 20 000 direct jobs. Meanwhile, green hydrogen company Tree Energy Solutions (TES), which is setting out to deliver on a net zero future by decarbonising the energy chain, has successfully concluded its second fundraising round at EUR65-million.

This new capital will enable TES to accelerate the clean energy transition by building the world's largest hydrogen projects by 2030. The fundraising attracted a global investor base comprising leading financial institutions and international energy corporations including E.ON, HSBC, UniCredit, and Zodiac Maritime. TES is developing a green energy hub in the German port of Wilhelmshaven, with the goal of supplying 250 TWh/y of green gas.

The strategy is to develop similar hubs in other European ports and TES will offer affordable green hydrogen, green gas, and green power in volumes that will significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of global energy markets. For TES, this involves introducing a circular carbon economy to the hydrogen market by using technologies to combine hydrogen with CO2 to produce synthetic methane. The company will import green hydrogen and synthetic methane from countries with renewable rich energy generation in order to help diversify Europe's energy supply.

Existing pipeline infrastructure can facilitate the cost-effective delivery to end users. TES is already scaling up the production of 5.5-million tonnes of reliable on-demand green hydrogen in its European Green Energy Hub at Wilhelmshaven. TES is committed to achieving carbon neutrality using renewable energy sources while at the same time contributing to energy security solutions.

The company is also developing additional energy supply and import hubs in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the Middle East, Canada, and the US, integrating and optimising global supply chains.

Marco Alvera, CEO of TES, said: "We are excited to announce this milestone on our journey to deliver green, affordable hydrogen.

TES is now further progressing to become an agent of change, driving this revolution."