Daily Maverick

Sasol and Toyota’s search for greener fuel pastures

- By Sasha Planting

There is a growing appreciati­on that South Africa offers significan­t competitiv­e advantages in the production of green hydrogen and green ammonia that can be used for domestic decarbonis­ation of transport and industry, as well as for export.

These include the country’s abundant wind and solar natural resources, cheap and available land and 50 years of experience in the commercial production of synthetic fuels, using the Fischer-Tropsch process, says energy expert Chris Yelland, who recently hosted a webinar on renewable hydrogen and green powerfuels.

This view is corroborat­ed in the report Powerfuels and Green Hydrogen, produced by Thomas Roos and Jarrad Wright of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and released in February. The authors note that green powerfuels are a viable alternativ­e to fossil fuels.

Green powerfuels are synthetic gaseous or liquid fuels based on renewable hydrogen, which is hydrogen obtained by the electrolys­is of water using renewable electricit­y.

The report adds that ailing companies like PetroSA could be repurposed to produce green aviation fuel for the European market, while the mothballed Saldanha Steel could be converted to a Direct Reduced Iron steel plant that is supplied by green hydrogen to produce “green steel” that could be shipped to Europe.

However, Sasol stepped forward first. It announced the formation of a partnershi­p with Toyota South Africa Motors to explore the developmen­t of a green hydrogen mobility ecosystem in this country.

First off, it intends to develop a “mobility corridor” on one of SA’s main freight corridors to pilot hydrogen-powered, heavy-duty, long-haul trucks. “The production of renewable carbon feedstock at scale is the end state that we are pursuing,” says Sasol CEO Fleetwood Grobler.

Both companies bring unique strengths to the partnershi­p. Toyota has a head start in the developmen­t and production of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell (FC) vehicles. It is also part of the Japan Hydrogen Associatio­n, which includes about 100 companies and aims to promote the creation of a hydrogen supply chain in Japan. Sasol brings its industrial process skills and patented Fischer-Tropsch technology to the party.

Sasol needs to produce hydrogen from water by adapting an “electrolys­er”, which the company has in Sasolburg. Initially, the hydrogen will not be “green”, explains Grobler, because the power source will not be renewable energy. But this is the start – a cheap and reliable source of hydrogen is es

Hydrogen is the missing piece in the puzzle to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. SA is well positioned to capitalise on the growing hydrogen economy

sential for the production of green fuels. The green hydrogen is then combined with carbon to make liquid fuels and petrochemi­cals using Fischer-Tropsch technology.

The present Sasol technology relies on coal as the source of carbon and is unsustaina­ble. The possible innovation will be to combine green carbon with green hydrogen to make liquid fuel.

The partners plan to introduce FC trucks into South Africa. In addition, they are evaluating the installati­on of a hydrogen refuelling station for the demonstrat­ion project.

The two companies hope to broaden the partnershi­p to include other companies over time.

In a related announceme­nt, Sasol said it will work alongside the LEN Consortium to bid in concept for the production of sustainabl­e aviation fuel (SAF) under the auspices of the German government’s H2Global auction platform. SAF is key to decarbonis­ing the aviation sector, which is one of the most challengin­g sectors in which to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Department of Science and Innovation is developing a policy roadmap on deploying large-scale hydrogen technologi­es in the country, according to the CSIR report. And while the current policy environmen­t is supportive, it needs to shift to one that is enabling and ambitious, the authors say.

The Minister of Trade, Industry and Competitio­n, Ebrahim Patel, has mandated the Industrial Developmen­t Corporatio­n as the commercial­isation champion for the hydrogen economy. The institutio­n will actively partner with the private sector in funding small hydrogen companies to fast-track the developmen­t of this economy.

“Hydrogen is the missing piece in the puzzle to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050,” he told the roughly 1,500 attendees at the webinar. “SA is well positioned to capitalise on the growing hydrogen economy and to export cost-effective green hydrogen to the world. Government has a strong interest in supporting the long-term sustainabi­lity of the industry,” said Patel.

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