Clean hydrogen could be virtually zero cost, US energy diplomat tells London Indaba

30th June 2023 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Clean hydrogen could be virtually zero cost, US energy diplomat tells London Indaba

US Department of State Bureau of Energy Resources Office of Energy Transformation acting director Scott Woodard.

JOHANNESBURG ( – The main founders of the Inflation Reduction Act envision the US legislation as a clean energy bill to lower the costs of green energy technologies for everyone around the world as well as being a model that may be emulated by especially those countries that have benefitted from emitting carbon into the air since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Such countries could introduce their own versions of the Inflation Reduction Act to drive down prices even further for global benefit, US Department of State Bureau of Energy Resources Office of Energy Transformation acting director Scott Woodard told this week’s London Indaba.

“If you looked at estimates of what electrolysers to generate clean hydrogen were going to cost and how long it was going to take, it was a decade away and they were going to be expensive for a while.

“Now, estimates say that we could be seeing 10 GW electrolysers in the next two, three years and clean hydrogen could be virtually zero cost,” Woodard said in response to London Indaba chairperson Bernard Swanepoel during question time.

Proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers, which are regarded as being highly effective producers of zero-emission green hydrogen, are efficiently catalysed with the help of South Africa’s platinum group metals (PGMs), especially iridium. Electrolyser production is being brought down the cost curve significantly as China, with its robotics and automation, enters the era of machines making machines.


The Inflation Reduction Act subsidises every kilogram of green hydrogen that is generated.

“That’s what I think we want people to really focus on when they look at the impact of this. Clearly, there are some trade issues that have popped up, but we have found that, as we’ve engaged with our partners, we have been able to shift the conversation somewhat from when the legislation first came out,” said Woodard.

Swanepoel: "...and hydrogen’s a good example because the green hydrogen value chain is not yet completely owned by a single country."

Woodard highlighted that the first thing to realise is that the Inflation Reduction Act is a huge piece of legislation, "absolutely massive".

“You’ll see the headline number of $370-billion, but I’ve seen some private sector banks estimate that spending on this is actually going to be north of $1-trillion. Then you start thinking about how that will attract private sector investment and be even bigger,” the US diplomat added.

At the previous week’s FT Hydrogen Conference, also in London, Fortescue Future Industries and Fortescue Metals Group executive chairperson and founder Dr Andrew Forrest ascribed the success of the Inflation Reduction Act to its absence of complexity: “It’s working because it’s simple. If you want to serve up something complex to a banker, you’re not going to get any money,” said Forrest, who added that the economies of countries could be significantly boosted "for decades to come" by adopting the US Inflation Reduction Act as a model.

Meanwhile, important new technologies are being perfected that are poised to enable green hydrogen to become a globally traded commodity. An example of this is the work being done by German company Hydrogenious in the field of liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) technology. LOHC technology enables green hydrogen to be chemically bound to a thermal oil for storage and bulk shipping, leveraging the existing infrastructure for liquid fuels. That means that green hydrogen could in future be transported, stored and delivered in existing oil and gas infrastructure and tankers, and be traded globally in the same way as oil and gas are currently.


When it comes to PEM electrolysers, pressure is being taken off their need for scarce iridium. German PGM products and services company Heraeus Precious Metals, for example, is having major success in the thrifting of iridium and is also investing €35-million in the expansion of its PGMs recycling capacity at Hanau in Germany, with the build-out forming part of a €300-million global recycling programme.

Last year, additional iridium recycling capacity development also began in Wartburg, Tennessee, and Santa Fe Springs, California, and a plant to recover PGMs from spent automotive catalysts was developed in Pinghu, China, with the participation of German chemicals company BASF. Also in China, a modern PGMs recycling plant in Nanjing was opened by Heraeus in 2018.

Moreover, Hydrogen Fuel News reports that a water-assisted mechanism boosts the efficiency of an iridium oxide catalyst and, as a result, the catalyst can be used with a higher energy output and requires less energy for electrolysis.


Nineteen green hydrogen projects are in various stages of planning in South Africa, with nine of these have been declared Strategic Infrastructure Projects or SIPs in terms of the Infrastructure Development Act of 2014. These advances have been made possible by leadership from the Presidency as well as the Department of Science and Innovation’s HySA hydrogen research programme, to unlock opportunities for the country’s PGMs resource.  

Noted by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) is that the current system is optimised for larger players, with smaller organisations and startups limited in access to finance, resources and skills to scale up their activities and thereby, risk exclusion from green hydrogen projects.

In light of these challenges, H2.SA collaborated with Make-IT in Africa, a global GIZ project that has commissioned Endeva e.V to implement the ii2030 initiative, which seeks solutions that could enable technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

Under this initiative, Endeva is exploring the future green hydrogen value chain and ecosystem with a specific focus on the question of opportunities for local small and medium-sized enterprises and digital startups, focusing on South Africa, Namibia and Kenya as locations for green hydrogen production. Activities in South Africa have included a series of online consultations and a workshop held in Cape Town.

“Combating climate change is a process. We are all in it together. We need to work together, and we need to be strategic about how we do it, how we report it, and how we talk about it," a view powerfully expounded by De Beers Carbon Neutrality Head Kirsten Hund in the latest edition of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. The article can be accessed using this link: