One industry expert said that governments should look to do more than merely create green hydrogen for the benefit of other nations, as attendees at the latest African Energy Week conference in Cape Town agreed that the continent should not be bullied out of its natural resources. With the continent’s huge potential as a green hydrogen generator – thanks to the enormous promise of inexpensive renewable energy – the claim has been made that the green hydrogen may become a significant source of export earnings as demand for energy storage medium rises in Europe and elsewhere.
However, Sarushen Pillay, who is a senior representative of the South African energy and chemicals firm Sasol, believes that African countries should use the green hydrogen they produce to create value-added products like sustainable steel, which could provide far more economic advantages than the simple gas.
Pillay was speaking at an energy conference in Cape Town last week, when Lars Greiner, who is an associate partner at Hamburg Port Consulting, emphasized Africa’s potential as a global leader in hydrogen production. The German port of Hamburg is already investing in hydrogen, and with Falk Bömeke of the German Federal Ministry for the Economic Affairs and Energy stating that his government, as well as the European Commission, were willing to invest in the African green hydrogen manufacturing, the demand for the commodity outside of Africa was clear.
To emphasize the potential of a technology that is seen as critical to the global energy transition – and that, as Pillay highlighted out, could assist power heavy automobiles in Africa’s comprehensive mining operations – Fredrick Ndi-Obiosa, who is the regional manager of the KBR, a U.S.-based science, and technology firm, said the hydrogen industry could be worth $2.5 trillion by mid-century, roughly half the present value of the oil industry.
Josef Abramowitz, CEO, and president of Gigawatt Global, a Dutch-based emerging market solar developer, told the audience that green energy has become cheaper than gas in the Africa’s emerging markets and that global investors have already committed to shifting nearly $40 trillion from fossil fuels to renewables. “The global community has yet to expand green energy to match the demands in Africa,” Abramowitz continued, citing the African Development Bank as well as the United States’ overseas development agency, USAID.
Green hydrogen’s difficulties
Because of its flammability and lightness, hydrogen, like some other fuels, must be handled carefully. A variety of fuels are combustible. Hydrogen is much more combustible in the air than gasoline, natural gas, or propane. Low amounts of hydrogen, on the other hand, have the same flammability potential as some other fuels. Because hydrogen is so light—around 57 times lighter than the gasoline fumes—it disperses fast in the atmosphere, that is a good thing.