Promoting South Africa’s hydrogen economy should be a top priority for South African policymakers and industry leaders, says Steve Phiri, chief Executive of Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat).
Focusing resources on the relatively new industry may be help alleviate South Africa’s energy crisis, Phiri said at a virtual debate on 9 September, hosted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Referring to California’s and China’s strategies on hydrogen economies, Phiri urged South Africa to follow suit.
Phiri said government needed to be involved in the development of the new sector.
The Californian government has rapidly increased the necessary infrastructure by incentivising the construction of structures such as hydrogen refuelling stations, which are similar to standard petrol stations. Many of California’s cars and trucks are fuelled by hydrogen cells, using platinum catalytic converters to turn hydrogen into energy, said Phiri, who is also acting vice-president of the Minerals Council of South Africa.
Phiri said zero-emission, near noiseless engines are becoming increasingly popular in Europe, South Korea and China where attitudes towards climate change mitigation are changing.
Chinese energy giants have also been active in the nascent hydrogen economy.
Sinopec, China’s largest oil refinery, has recently said it wants to build hydrogen refuelling stations next to its existing petrol pumps in East Coast China. The move, according to company chairman, Zhang Yuzhuo, is designed to keep up with a world turning away from fossil fuels. Zhang’s group joins other energy giants like PetroChina in the cautious transition from fossil fuels to clean energy options, after it announced plans to reach near-zero emissions by 2050.
Phiri, who visited Shanghai in 2019, said the city was doing amazing things to promote the hydrogen economy by investing in hydrogen fuel cell development and stationary power generation.
Given South Africa’s electricity crisis, building and developing a hydrogen economy should be government’s ”number one priority”, said Phiri.