Sasol and Toyota’s search for greener fuel pastures
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.