Platinum’s role in the hydrogen economy is just a precursor to the transition, Mapungubwe points out

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The strategic role of platinum group metals (PGMs) in creating a hydrogen economy is the key supportive element of the President’s proposed Investment Plan for a Just Energy Transition (JET-IP). Cyril Ramaphosa At the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection researcher Dr Nqobile Xaba emphasized in a comment.

Given the importance of PGM to achieving global net-zero emissions targets, Xaba questions South Africa’s sufficient equipment to take advantage of its PGM endowment.

Green hydrogen electrolysers and fuel cells are poised to drive demand for PGMs, used in electrolysers to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen and in fuel cells to generate electricity from hydrogen, both of which play key roles in decarbonization.

Xaba emphasizes that green hydrogen technologies are unlikely to be fully implemented until this cleanest form of hydrogen can be produced competitively.

To this end, the procurement of renewable wind and solar energy needs to be accelerated, along with infrastructure development, including hydrogen distribution and storage infrastructure.

The basis of the South African Hydrogen Society Roadmap is the use of hydrogen and hydrogen technologies to promote economic development, and as South Africa implements the roadmap’s strategies it has the potential to become a participant and scientific thought leader in the emerging global hydrogen system.

As South Africa will compete with other countries in the South African Development Community for the same markets, Xaba stresses that South Africa needs an accelerated pace to ensure it takes full advantage of green hydrogen export opportunities.

Xaba claims that current policies do not adequately address the availability of materials for both the transition to renewable energy and the adoption of the circular economy.

In order to achieve the green hydrogen ambitions outlined in the JET-IP, she emphasizes the need for South Africa to build value chains for mineral processing to meet the needs of the hydrogen economy.

“South Africa should ensure it maintains its competitiveness in the PGM sector for its economic subsistence and low-carbon transition strategies. This can be achieved by creating a thriving hydrogen economy,” Xaba advocates:

  • PGM upgrading through catalyst development for fuel cell and electrolyser applications to ensure mineral value creation occurs in South Africa;
  • Assisting in directing South Africa’s research and development (R&D) efforts towards product commercialisation; and
  • an enabling environment for a thriving hydrogen economy, with both the Presidential Climate Commission Framework for a Just Transition and the Roadmap for the Hydrogen Society defining implementation steps.

In addition, South Africa’s minerals beneficiation strategy provides a framework, she says, for using mineral resources to support overall economic competitiveness and promote ecology.

In her view, creating an enabling environment must include financial support for R&D and skills programs to ensure there is a skilled workforce in the hydrogen economy.

“It must also include science diplomacy initiatives that ensure collaboration with international partners and facilitate the deployment of hydrogen technology demonstration prototypes of fuel cells and electrolysers for energy needs,” she adds.

These need to be rolled out across the country to meaningfully support service delivery and encourage engagement with the new technologies.

Linking all these requirements should be done through strong partnerships between government, research institutions, the private sector and civil society.

“These partnerships are critical to ensuring that projects thrive, a shared vision is maintained and that the South African hydrogen economy is guided by a just transition framework,” concludes Xaba.

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