Since announcing plans to build a green ammonia export plant in Nelson Mandela Bay, the partners behind the project, Hive Hydrogen, Built Africa and Afrox subsidiary Linde, have witnessed a great deal of interest in this first-of-its-kind undertaking.
The R75-billion project heralds a new area for South Africa in its commitments to greener solutions for industry, particularly as the world is starting to feel the pressure to meet net-zero targets by 2050.
Notably, Hive Hydrogen South Africa chairperson Thulani Gcabashe says the support the project received so far stems largely from Transnet, Eskom, the local government of Nelson Mandela Bay and international industry partners. The proposed up to 900 000 t/y green ammonia plant – with its own dedicated green power supply at the Coega Special Economic Zone alongside the Port of Ngqura – is a significant South African response to the world’s need for green solutions to limit the devastating impact of climate change and to deliver on COP26 commitments.
The developers state that the renewable energy and energy storage component of the project alone will be the biggest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the largest globally.
The project will be powered by a 1 000 MW solar plant, located adjacent to the plant, coupled with a 56 MW battery storage component on site, and a 1 400 MW wind farm, which will be built further away.
Gcabasha notes there is a surge in demand for ammonia globally, to meet agricultural, chemical and mining requirements. This, coupled with the expected global switch to green ammonia as the main fuel in the maritime industry, and its ability to serve as a coal substite, makes this the optimum time to invest in this commodity.
Hive Hydrogen in December last year published a prefeasibility study on the project and has been working towards a final investment decision. A full feasibility study is in progress and, thereafter, the project team aims to garner funding support.
The company expects the plant to be fully operational by 2026.
Hive Hydrogen UK founder and CEO Giles Redpath explains that, if by the end of the century nothing has been done to mitigate climate change, and a 5 ˚C temperature rise is not curbed, human life will not be supported and harsh weather conditions will ensue.
Redpath highlights the importance of using South Africa’s renewable energy resources, not only for the benefit of the local economy, but also to position it as a leader in mitigating climate change concerns. He highlights South Africa’s abundant wind and solar resources as an advantage.
“This project is incredibly important . . . ammonia is important because it can be transported in ways that hydrogen cannot,” he says.
Elaborating further on the benefits of this clean fuel, Gcabashe says ammonia can be liquefied, stored and transported, which many other forms of renewable energy cannot. He adds that ammonia is burned with internal combustion engines, with no carbon emissions as a result; it can be converted to electricity directly, or provide hydrogen for fuel cells.
Transnet National Ports Authority will provide storage tanks for the ammonia to be stored pending export.
Although this is a complex ammonia production project, and a first for South Africa, it will be catalytic in terms of post-Covid-19 recovery. The project can be a huge boost for business confidence and present supply chain opportunities, as well as major foreign direct investment opportunities, states Gcabashe.
The project is poised to create thousands of jobs, should it come to fruition.
But beyond job creation, this project, being located where it is, could result in that area becoming an energy hub for renewable energy, notably for hydrogen.
“Our immediate priorities are to create a bankable project within 18 months, to find funders, and execute the project on time and on budget.”