Anglo American to champion development of SA’s ‘hydrogen valley’

The country can become an effective exporter of renewable energy, says Amplats CEO Natascha Viljoen.
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Mogalakwena mine hydrogen production, storage and refuelling complex in Limpopo. Image: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

South Africa is looking to unlock its nascent hydrogen economy with government envisioning the development of an expansive ‘hydrogen valley’ stretching from Limpopo to Gauteng and down to KwaZulu-Natal – a plan that is being backed by mining giant Anglo American.

Speaking at the conglomerate’s unveiling of its first hydrogen-powered nuGen Zero Emissions Haulage Solutions (ZEHS) truck at the Mogalakwena mine in Limpopo on Friday, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) CEO Natascha Viljoen said the group is championing the plan.

Read: World’s biggest hydrogen trucks start work at Anglo American

“Hydrogen has a significant and wide-ranging role to play in achieving a low carbon future – particularly as an energy carrier enabling the development of a renewables-based power generation system … We are particularly excited about the potential of nuGen, amongst other opportunities, as we work to champion the development of South Africa’s hydrogen valley,” she added.

“South Africa is one of only four countries that can generate more renewable energy than what we need for ourselves. This means we can become an effective exporter of energy which will create a whole new economy.”

In October 2021, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) together with the South African National Development Institute (Sanedi) published a feasibility report for the proposed hydrogen valley, noting that the ‘valley’ would span approximately 835km from Mogalakwena in Limpopo, along the industrial and commercial corridor in Johannesburg and lead to the south of Durban.

Billions for the economy, and jobs

The study notes that the proposed valley has the potential to add between R65 billion and R146 billion to the country’s GDP through direct and indirect contributions.

It estimates that between 14 000 and 30 000 jobs per year can be created by 2050 by kickstarting South Africa’s hydrogen economy. The report also predicts that the demand for hydrogen within the valley alone (including the hub cities and provinces along the route) could reach up to 185kt by 2030.

Speaking at the Anglo American hydrogen truck launch, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the hydrogen valley would position South Africa as a “global centre for green hydrogen production”.

“It will lead to the creation of new industries, aid the decarbonisation of sectors like transportation, manufacturing and construction, and create new jobs for our people in all these provinces,” he added.

The hydrogen valley proposal follows the president’s 2021 State of the Nation Address in which he cited hydrogen fuel cells as an integral alternative energy source of national priority.

Ramaphosa also established the Presidential Coordinating Commission (PCC) on Climate Change to facilitate a climate resilient economy and aid the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Director-General at the DSI Dr Phil Mjwara believes the hydrogen valley is an important national initiative that will aid the country’s post-Covid Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan and further advocate for a sustainable, resilient and inclusive economy.

“The establishment of a South African hydrogen valley is therefore seen as an opportunity that has great potential to unlock growth, revitalise the industrial sector, and position South Africa to be an exporter of cost-effective green hydrogen to the world. Hydrogen, therefore, remains an integral part of our Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan,” he said.

Hydrogen plant and mine haul truck

Anglo American’s Mogalakwena mine is the first mine in SA to successfully launch a hydrogen plant and hydrogen-powered mine haul truck.

The nuGen hydrogen-powered trucks are expected to replace 40 diesel haul trucks at the Mogalakwena mine and will supersede the mining company’s fleet of around 400 trucks by 2040.

According to Julian Soles, Anglo American head of technology development, mining and sustainability, the move will be equivalent to removing 500 000 diesel cars off the road. This transition is expected to “take form” in 2026.

Soles says although the truck is fully functional, a few commissioning procedures remain outstanding which hinder it from functioning on a commercial scale just yet.

Ramaphosa described the nuGen project as a valuable driver of economic growth and employment which will contribute to the country’s decarbonisation efforts. “It takes us from conceptualisation to reality.”

The construction of the company’s nuGen ZEHS project, which officially started in 2019 in partnership with creative engineering and technology companies ENGIE, First Mode, Ballard and NPROXX, is an extension of the company’s eight-year FutureSmartMining programme which supports the mine’s carbon-neutrality commitment targeted across all operations by 2040.

Tony O’Neill, Anglo American’s technical director, said the programme creates possibilities for sustainable mining by prioritising technology and digitalisation.

“It was harder to design this for a haul truck than a train. This is a real gamechanger,” said O’Neill.

Inspired by its diesel predecessor, the nuGen truck is currently the world’s lightest 510-ton truck and is the first to run on hydrogen with its 220 ton size and load capacity of 290 tons.

The truck’s only emission is water vapour. Once the model replaces all diesel haul trucks, it is expected to reduce on-site diesel emissions by 80%.

The truck functions on an on-site zero-emissions production plant which includes a storage and refuelling complex using the largest alkaline electrolyser in Africa of 3.5MW which generates 99.97% pure hydrogen. The plant also includes a solar photovoltaic (PV) field that supports the operation of the haul truck. It’s nominal onsite storage capacity is 800kg for hydrogen.

Anglo American is taking its SA operations completely off grid
Anglo American plans to boost SA’s green energy output

Noting the increased implementation of load shedding by Eskom, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe tasked Anglo American with embedding renewable electricity generation onto the national grid and not only for its haul trucks.

This follows the utility’s announcement of its zero-emissions target by 2050.

Anglo American announced its partnership with global renewable energy leader EDF Renewables to develop a regional renewable energy ecosystem (RREE) at the beginning of the year.

“This ecosystem will be designed to meet all our operational electricity requirements in South Africa through renewables by 2030, while supporting the resilience of the local electricity supply systems and the wider decarbonisation of energy in the country,” the group said.

Viljoen noted that the Mogalakwena mine’s PV plant, which is still being completed, will generate 100MW of renewable energy and ultimately have capacity to generate up to 320MW.

Nondumiso Lehutso is a Moneyweb intern.


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Never heard of the Hindenburg hey???

Apparently it is also possible to burn H2 straight into an ICE engine, just like diesel or LPG. Which eliminates the need of fuel cells, definitely more energy efficient.

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