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Speakers outline green hydrogen challenges, infrastructure hurdles

12th April 2024

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online


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South Africa’s green hydrogen economy faces complexities and challenges, both upstream and downstream, and this requires technological disruption and commitment beyond the current value chain.

This was how EPCM Global Engineering CEO Tumi Kgomo summarised the 'Overcoming challenges of developing a robust infrastructure for hydrogen production, transportation and storage' session, during the 2024 Hydrogen Economy Discussion event, held in Johannesburg this week.

Citing experience from California, in the US, Chart Industries Middle East, Africa and India energy sales director Simon Little said the industry in the US state was seeing a shift from a gaseous supply chain, to a liquid supply chain, as this provided economic benefits.

He highlighted that this would be supported by changes in the market, namely, the availability of liquid hydrogen shipping options.

Little explained that, up until recently, indications were that it would only be by the mid-2030s that a commercially viable liquid hydrogen ship became available.

However, he acclaimed that some companies that Chart is working with are accelerating this at a great speed, with one of these hopeful of having a commercial ship available by 2028, which would align well with project timelines.

Little averred that a liquid shipping solution would enable the green hydrogen economy to evolve similarly to the liquified natural gas one.

Transnet Pipelines GM Russell Bradbrooke, however, cautioned that South Africa must be cognisant of the characteristics of the market, with the liquid supply chain potentially vulnerable to criminal attacks, which could cause safety issues.

In terms of pipelines, he said repurposing and extending the current infrastructure to accommodate the green hydrogen industry was possible

He noted, however, that the issue was rather with infrastructure such as terminals and tanks, with these not designed for such resources, and it would not be feasible to repurpose these.

This issue was compounded by the fact that the country would have other resources running at the same time as the hydrogen economy, which would cause a significant overlap. This would require the country to build the new infrastructure required for the green hydrogen economy, while also aiming to debottleneck certain existing pipelines, Bradbrooke pointed out.

He informed that Transnet Pipelines was open to public-private partnerships as it moved into the green hydrogen space, given that this was a new industry for the entity.

Looking at the country’s port infrastructure, Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) renewable energy, utilities development, special project sector specialist Amanda Makgoga said the entity had put out a request for information (RFI) to glean insight into the market’s requirements for the green hydrogen economy, and to inform how it developed the port infrastructure for this. 

She pointed out that there was interest from all of the ports, however, some of these were not viable owing to their location and the inherent risks involved.

Therefore, TNPA will be undertaking a thorough risk assessment of all of the ports, to inform which of these can best accommodate the interest and are the most feasible.

Meanwhile, Air Liquide hydrogen energy business development and commercial director Neil Woolcock said that while there was desire to develop the downstream segment of the green hydrogen economy, stakeholders needed to take a step back and discern whether they had the infrastructure in place to link them to the markets, with this being a challenge in the country.

Another challenge is presented by the water needed for electrolysers, with stakeholders either needing to implement desalination, which requires considerable energy, or requiring access to lots of water that is not necessarily located where they would want to develop these projects.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online




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