In 2014 Siggi Huegemann, a German who resides in the UK, initiated the idea for an African Hydrogen Association. Vincent Oldenbroek, a Dutch citizen based in Harare, joined in 2018. Together they formally established the organisation in Africa and renamed the initiative to the African Hydrogen Partnership (AHP). The successful co-operation of the partners culminated in a conference in Addis Ababa in 2020, where the objective was to develop opportunities associated with trans-African green hydrogen hubs and routes between cities, ports and mining centres.
Fuel cell trucks and buses refuelling with green hydrogen from power-to-gas or power to hydrogen (P2G/P2H) stations along major highways offer African nations economic and environmental benefits. The African Hydrogen Partnership was set up as a development and financing forum to realise this hydrogen-based green energy vision across Africa with the aim of using hydrogen to replace diesel in commercial vehicles and generators, as well as providing hydrogen for fertiliser production.
During 2020, Ian Fraser and Catherine Scholtz, directors of RTS Africa Engineering, joined the association. The AHP was then formally registered with RTS Africa Engineering and Hypowa as the first two member companies.
Fuel cell technology and green hydrogen vehicles
Hydrogen fuel cells are an ideal core technology to power road vehicles of the future, especially large commercial vehicles. This technology enables hydrogen fuel to be used in a fuel cell to generate electricity and ultimately traction via electric motors. The Toyota Mirai, the Honda Clarity and the Hyundai Nexo are all versions of hydrogen powered vehicles and all depend on fuel-cell technology that essentially replaces the battery in an electric vehicle. These power units are similar to self-charging hybrid vehicles, with the self-charging combustion engine, charger and battery storage combination being replaced by a hydrogen fuel cell.
Hydrogen technology for vehicles is far more common than people think. NEL Hydrogen is now the largest manufacturer of hydrogen electrolysers, which are being used to establish hydrogen refuelling stations all over the world. This has to happen in Africa too, where most countries spend millions of dollars importing fossil fuels. Renewable energy in the form of wind, solar and hydro power is abundant, though, which can be directly used via an electrolyser to generate hydrogen fuel from water, allowing hydrogen refuelling stations to be established at or near the generation sites.
Studies indicate that demand for hydrogen fuel cell trucks would bring the purchase price down to a similar level to that of traditional fossil fuel trucks and since operating costs would be even lower, profitable projects should be easy to identify.
The advantages of hydrogen are already being recognised by some fleet operators in Africa. Anglo American’s Mogalakwena open-pit platinum mine in the Waterberg district of the Limpopo Province is currently in the process of converting its big ore haulers to hydrogen power. Two trucks are being converted ready for a pilot project set to begin in 2021. The trucks will be supplied by electrolysers on site and if successful, the aim is to convert the entire fleet to hydrogen in coming years.
Finance and the green bond market
Core to the success of the AHP is finance. Participating African governments and companies need access to capital markets to raise funds for projects such as hydrogen truck and bus routes. Green financial instruments are now widely available from private and stock markets investment sectors to fund environmental and/or climate change projects. Green Bonds, for example, first introduced by the European Investment Bank in 2007, are already providing low-cost, long-term source capital for green projects and their use has doubled in value every year since their introduction 13 years ago.
Zero environmental impact
Ultimately, as a response to climate change and atmospheric pollution, the AHP sees hydrogen being used to power trucks, buses and taxis on African roads. Using local renewable energy plants, it is possible to produce green hydrogen that does not generate any greenhouse gases when used to power a vehicle. This signals a path towards zero environmental impact for commercial transportation, which is a major objective of the AHP.
There are also export opportunities to supply green hydrogen for use in Europe and Japan. A novel pipeline project is already underway to take green hydrogen though an existing oil pipeline from Morocco to Europe. The technology is also ideal for Africa’s taxi industries. Green-powered electrolyser refuelling stations can be located at taxi ranks, enabling onsite refuelling.
The African Hydrogen Partnership is a constructive initiative that offers a realistic way to realise the advantages of the green hydrogen economy in Africa.
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