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More work on regulation, codes, certification and standards needed for hydrogen economy

24th March 2023

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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If South Africa wants to develop a hydrogen economy, it cannot have ad hoc regulations, codes and standards (RCS) and certification systems.

More work was required to develop RCS that addressed regulatory gaps and facilitated the development of a hydrogen economy, transaction advisory company RebelGroup South Africa senior consultant Laurens Cloete said this week.

"If we want a green hydrogen economy, we require a comprehensive approach to RCS. Green hydrogen certification is also critical for exporting green hydrogen to countries that do not have sufficient renewable resources but require clean energy sources."

Further, the South Africa Hydrogen Society Roadmap and the Green Hydrogen Commercialisation Strategy of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) highlight the criticality of RCS across the chain value.

"In factories and industrial sites, we know what we are doing with hydrogen and have been doing it for a long time with a good record.

"However, it is outside the factories, in the suburbs and on the highways, where there is more work to do, including in the homologation (regulatory approval) of hydrogen-powered vehicles. There are also currently no green hydrogen certification mechanisms available," Cloete highlighted.

Additionally, if the country wanted to sell green hydrogen to Europe or Japan, for example, it needed to understand their requirements, and it was therefore important that certification followed the market, Cloete added.

"There are many relevant standards for hydrogen internationally, with some work on standards still underway in areas such as heavy-duty vehicle refuelling.

"Further, a green hydrogen economy would be in the gigawatt-scale, and this scale makes it an interesting challenge for the country," he said.

RebelGroup, based on a recent study of international and South African hydrogen RCS, proposed that RCS be prioritised on large use cases, that complying with RCS entail a step-by-step process and that a one-stop shop be established to facilitate the development of the industry.

Further, many South African stakeholders felt that the green hydrogen economy should be export-led. However, the Green Hydrogen Commercialisation Strategy balances domestic and export markets.

South Africa had substantial potential local use for green hydrogen in its economy in addition to favourable export market potential, which could serve as a competitive advantage for the country, Cloete said.

"While the main cost of producing green hydrogen is the electrolysis, given South Africa's distance from international markets, export costs are a consideration. However, there are many other ways in which the country can add value using green hydrogen, such as by making green steel and then using it to make vehicles that are fully green," he highlighted.

South Africa should focus its green hydrogen economy development efforts on four to six clusters where there is already nascent hydrogen infrastructure present.

For green hydrogen certification, South Africa should select international schemes that satisfied the requirements of an export market and then develop a national certification scheme using international best practices, RebelGroup recommended.

South Africa needed to recognise that it was embarking on a mammoth task in terms of the size and complexity of developing a green hydrogen economy, emphasised IDC industry development planner Mahandra Rooplall.

"Green hydrogen presents a new opportunity for South Africa to bolster energy security, development and job creation. It can also bolster decarbonisation afforded by renewable generation replacing various fuels and gases in industrial processes," he said.

However, there was a need for national coordination around infrastructure requirements for a hydrogen economy, he noted.

A conducive regulatory and policy environment for the development of a green hydrogen economy requires RCS, including for project development and execution.

"RCS, against which performance and quality can be tested, is needed to support the development of catalytic projects. RCS are also necessary to enable the industry to respond to global and local market demands, and this represents an opportunity to trade," he said.

Based on an analysis of international demand, longer-term ambitions were estimated at 607-million tonnes a year of green hydrogen to drive decarbonisation and to fulfil blending mandates. South Africa was aiming to satisfy 3-million tonnes a year to 6-million tonnes a year of the 30-million tonnes a year to 60-million tonnes a year of total export demanded by 2050, he said.

Local demand by 2050 was estimated to be 3-million tonnes a year to 6-million tonnes a year of green hydrogen, and the strategy's production target by 2050 is for South Africa to produce 7-million tonnes a year of green hydrogen, Rooplall added.

To achieve this target, South Africa must look to develop diversified export markets, including in Europe and the Far East. It must then look at satisfying local uses, including mining and industrial decarbonisation in hard-to-abate sectors and sustainable aviation fuels, as the areas that the country aims to successfully penetrate.

South Africa, based on estimates, would be able to produce green hydrogen at a cost of €1/kg to €1.25/kg, meaning it could be one of the cheapest producers in the world. However, South Africa was not the only one that would be able to produce at these costs and was another reason why it must move with speed to develop its green hydrogen economy, he noted.

There are two key drivers of development of green hydrogen infrastructure. The main cost of producing green hydrogen is the cost of electrolysis, which comprises the cost of renewable energy generation and the cost of the electrolysers.

"Both have significantly declined and continue to decline. This is a feed-forward cycle. The costs are declining, and economies of scale will bring down prices further, allowing the penetration of green hydrogen into different applications," he noted.

The green hydrogen industry needed companies to act as champions to drive suitable RCS development, said Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) clean energy technology research group leader Dr Brian North.

"While [standards body] the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) must be involved, the framing and driving of standards must be done by industry champions. The SABS is only the gatekeeper of RCS, but the regulations required for companies to sell green hydrogen overseas or to drive hydrogen-powered cars locally need to be identified and driven by industry stakeholders."

Meanwhile, the CSIR was currently working on producing hydrogen RCS, and these should be out in a month or so, he highlighted.

However, companies can use various standards and publically available tool suites to inform RCS requirements on nascent hydrogen developments.

"Companies can use the South African National Standard 10260: industrial gas pipelines regulations, even restricted only to hydrogen, because it is a straightforward standard. If the scope of a project is outside the limits of this standard, developers can produce a rational design in line with the prescripts of the standard," he said.

Additionally, the H2tools website provided a good suite of safety practices and the compatibility of materials, such as in terms of hydrogen embrittlement. 'The Fundamentals of Hydrogen Safety' was a free book that companies could use, noted North.

The International Association for Hydrogen Safety also provides companies with access to its hydrogen safety conference outcomes and the associated reports submitted by participants.

"HyRAM provides companies with a risk-assessment model, while the US National Fire Protection Association has massive manuals on hydrogen safety. State-owned power utility Eskom also has comprehensive hydrogen safety rules," he added.

RCS is needed to enable the manifestation of a hydrogen economy in a safe, reliable environment that facilitates the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, said CSIR energy materials senior researcher Dr Nicholas Musyoka.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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