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Incipient low-cost energy development must be crafted to bring back low-cost minerals-energy complex

14th December 2018

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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It is good news that the pilot projects of South Africa’s hydrogen strategy are nearing commercialisation, as Department of Science and Technology hydrogen and energy chief director Dr Rebecca Maserumule told attendees of the thirtieth International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy Outreach and Education Conference, at the University of Pretoria, in early December.

Even better news is that the special economic zone for fuel cell development has been approved, as Impala Platinum fuel cell coordinator Fahmida Smith told attendees at the same conference.

And very significant news is the identification of hydrogen by The Economist magazine of London as the world’s best decarbonised complement to mass electrification.

It is now possible to put South Africa firmly on a path of low-cost solar and wind energy use to restore the international competitiveness of the South African economy.

That clean and low-cost electricity must be used to produce hydrogen for platinum-catalysed fuel cell vehicles and power plants, as well as provide the clean power to produce hydrogen to replace coal gasification to produce clean petrol, diesel and chemicals by means of the Fischer-Tropsch method, which has been mastered by Sasol over the last half century and also passed on to PetroSA.

The Economist quotes Steven Davis, of the University of California, Irvine, as saying that hydrogen could have a clean fuel role in transport, heating and synthetic fuels.

Going hand in hand with the introduction of hydrogen is demand for platinum, and demand for platinum is important to South Africa as the host of the lion’s share of the world’s platinum group metals (PGMs).

Just as South Africa’s former economic growth model was based on a minerals and energy complex supported by an abundance of low-cost coal-fired electricity, South Africa’s growth model going forward must be based on a minerals and energy complex that is supported by South Africa’s abundant sunshine and prime wind flow.

Those formulating minerals policy, trade policy, industrial policy, energy policy and environmental and climate policy must combine forces to put South Africa back on the road to economic growth, but this time round that growth must be inclusive growth to help reduce inequality and also protect the economic environment.

The clean sun and wind electricity, which can now be produced at a cost lower than electricity from coal, must be used to turn South Africa’s Aladdin’s Cave of metals and minerals to positive account.

It must also be used to electrolyse water – preferably acid mine drainage water – into hydrogen gas and breathable oxygen. The hydrogen must be used as the clean fuel of the platinum-catalysed fuel cell to drive buses, trucks, trains and eventually also small cars. Hydrogen, using the Fischer-Tropsch technology that South Africa knows more about than any nation on earth, can also play a role in the production of clean petrol, diesel, chemicals and even synthetic jet fuel, which will make us less guilty about polluting the skies when we fly.

Every bit of support must be given to Hydrogen South Africa, which is developing local, cost-competitive hydrogen generation solutions, aimed at championing wealth creation through the beneficiation of South Africa’s abundant PGM reserves. It is the right way to go.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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