Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed energy and chemical group Sasol is a step closer to commercialising green hydrogen in SA next year, unveiling one of several mega-hydrogen initiatives this week.
The home-grown company, along with partners Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) and specialty gas producer Air Products South Africa, launched SA’s first on-road hydrogen mobility pilot project, demonstrated yesterday at the Smart Mobility Africa Summit 2023, in Johannesburg.
The proof-of-concept used a second-generation Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) fuelled with hydrogen produced by Sasol, and dispensing technology provided by Air Products, to take several government officials as passengers around a test track.
The demonstration showcased a hydrogen mobility ecosystem, a sustainable alternative that can decarbonise SA’s heavy-duty transport sector, such as long-haul trucks, buses and mining fleets.
This, as Sasol is advancing a number of green hydrogen projects in SA, with plans to supply green hydrogen to the transport sector in 2024 and to also decarbonise SA’s mining industry, among other objectives.
“Today is an important stepping stone towards realising the ambitious goal of developing an on-road hydrogen mobility ecosystem,” said Fleetwood Grobler, president and CEO of Sasol, speaking atthe unveiling of the initiative.
“Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, has the potential to be a game-changer in the quest for sustainable transportation.”
Given SA’s wealth of solar, wind and precious metals resources, the country is poised to become a global hub for green hydrogen and its derivatives, added Grobler.
During the demonstration, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi opened the vehicle gas cap and filled up the tank of the Toyota Mirai with green hydrogen gas.
Two years ago, Sasol set a target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. As one of the largest producers of grey hydrogen, producing approximately 2.4 million tonnes per year, the company is gradually transitioning from using grey hydrogen, produced with coal and natural gas, to green hydrogen produced from renewable electricity.
“Our vision encompasses a future where green hydrogen and biogenic sources of carbon play a central role, as they become increasingly abundant and accessible from an affordability point of view,” noted Grobler.
“Sasol’s Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology will play a key role in our transition. While FT technologies are typically linked to fossil fuel feedstocks today, our technology is agnostic when it comes to the source of the hydrogen or carbon feedstock. With FT technology, we can produce sustainable products; very much sought-after in a low carbon world.”
Sasol believes making more investments in green hydrogen is poised to boost SA’s economy.
According to Grobler, the company has procured over 600 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy to date, with another 600 megawatts to follow towards 2030.
At its Sasolburg operations, the company has commissioned a 3MW solar farm that powers existing electrolysers – achieving daily production of approximately 150kg of green hydrogen during the plant’s commissioning phase.
“In the near-term, this will be bolstered by a further 69MW from the Msenge Emoyeni Wind Farm, in the Eastern Cape. We expect this to come online in 2024 and will enable our Sasolburg electrolysers to produce up to 5 500 tons of green hydrogen a day.”
According to the Green Hydrogen Commercialisation Strategy for SA, published by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition in November 2022, among the benefits of green hydrogen is that it is a clean energy and the only waste it generates is water. It is also renewable energy produced from natural resources.
The partnership between Sasol, TSAM and Air Products South Africa was formed in 2021, to promote the use of hydrogen in vehicles, as a fuel of the future in SA.
Founded in the US 80 years ago, Air Products bills itself as the world's largest hydrogen producer, with experience across the full value chain for hydrogen globally.
The parties intend to develop a mobility corridor and expand the demonstration to a pilot project using one of SA’s main freight corridors, such as the N3 route between Durban and Johannesburg.
The green hydrogen refuelling stations will be for hydrogen-powered heavy-duty long-haul trucks.
To initiate the project, the parties have determined that it would be appropriate to pursue the introduction of fuel cell (FC) trucks in SA. This supports the available research on FC technology, where it is shown that long-distance mobility is better suited to FC technology, compared to battery electric trucks, according to TSAM.
“Toyota has been actively involved in the research and development of vehicles using hydrogen as a source of motive power for more than 30 years, going back to 1992,” noted Andrew Kirby, president and CEO of Toyota SA Motors, speaking at the launch.
“Toyota has sold more than 25 000 fuel cell electric vehicles since then. In fact, a prototype FCEV was used in a static display at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, which was held in Johannesburg.
“Today, we are proud to have two of our second-generation Toyota Mirai sedans here for the ecosystem demonstration. They are the flagships of our hydrogen FCEV programme and were only launched last year.”
According to Kirby, SA’s hydrogen market is best suited to longer distance travel, and larger vehicles such as trucks and buses, therefore Toyota is involved in several projects where the FCEVs are commercial vehicles made by Toyota or conversions of existing models from other manufacturers.
However, he pointed out that the key challenge facing the industry is how to commercialise a viable hydrogen mobility ecosystem in SA, given that it is a costly undertaking.
“The ecosystem needs more partners, investors and support from the government. The current partnership is looking at so-called eco-clusters as a start − high commercial traffic areas in the country.
“Initially, the Pretoria-Johannesburg region could be well-suited, as these are high-volume routes which could justify investment in hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. Ideally, we need businesses and fleets to commit up-front to buy hydrogen FCEVs and substantial quantities of hydrogen to make the necessary infrastructure viable,” he concluded.