Driving the Hydrogen Economy in South Africa

nuGen™ hydrogen-powered ultra-class mine haul truck, Mogalakwena, South Africa.
Photo: Anglo American
Insights with
Natascha Viljoen
Natascha Viljoen

CEO, Anglo American Platinum

Bringing the South African hydrogen valley concept to reality, Anglo American and partners have successfully launched the world’s largest hydrogen-powered vehicle.

At Anglo American, we’re transforming our business to deliver on our purpose of reimagining mining to improve people’s lives. Underpinning this is our Sustainable Mining Plan, which guides how we mine and process our products to shape a more sustainable business across our entire value chain.

Our Sustainable Mining Plan is built around three key pillars, aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. One of these, alongside how we view our role as a trusted corporate leader and the support we provide to thriving communities, is our commitment to maintaining a healthy environment, and our corporate response to climate change, one of the defining challenges of our time.

To address this, we’re taking action to make a meaningful contribution to the decarbonisation of our industry, and working to achieve a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable world. Developing the hydrogen economy, a sector with the potential to play a significant role in the sustainable energy transition, is firmly at the heart of our framework.

Courtesy of its world-leading solar and wind resources, and access to the platinum group metals (PGM) used in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysers needed to produce green hydrogen as a fuel, and in fuel cells to generate electricity from hydrogen, South Africa is among the countries primed to capitalise; both in terms of hydrogen generation and consumption.

As a leading producer of PGM, and a business operating in South Africa for more than a hundred years, we have been working towards establishing the right ecosystem to successfully develop, scale-up and deploy hydrogen-fuelled solutions. As part of this, we are exploring the potential for a hydrogen valley in South Africa, intended to cluster several industrial and research initiatives, and to carry out a series of pilot projects across the complete hydrogen value chain.

Feasibility study has identified three key hydrogen valley hubs

In collaboration with South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the South African National Development Institute (SANEDI), ENGIE, and Bambili Energy, we completed a hydrogen valley feasibility study in October 2021.

The study identified three hubs – Johannesburg, extending to Rustenburg and Pretoria; Durban, encompassing the city itself and Richards Bay; and Limpopo province, centred around our Mogalakwena PGM mine. These hubs will have a fundamental role to play in integrating hydrogen into the country’s economy, and in establishing South Africa and its abundant renewable energy resources as a strategically important centre for green hydrogen production.

Hydrogen valley presents substantial economic and employment potential

The results of the independently conducted feasibility study show that the hydrogen valley could add between $4-9 billion to South African GDP (direct and indirect contributions) by 2050, while also creating between 14,000 – 30,000 direct and indirect jobs per year. These jobs will span the entire hydrogen value chain, from research and development, engineering and maintenance, to training and outreach – across sourcing, production, transportation and storage.

Nine individual pilot projects have also been identified across these hubs, recommended to be prioritised by developers, and spanning the transport, industrial, and construction sectors. Since the publication of the feasibility study results, we have worked with South Africa’s DSI and other partners on the implementation of relevant projects, including the Rhynbow Project. This initiative, which we are progressing together with partners Bambili Energy, ENGIE, Sasol and TotalEnergies, will look to aggregate demand for fuel cell heavy duty vehicles, including buses and articulated trucks, to scale a viable operational ecosystem.

We also continue to advance independent efforts to introduce hydrogen powered solutions to our mines; part of our aim to achieve carbon neutrality across our operations by 2040. The investment in renewable hydrogen production technology and the development and introduction of hydrogen-powered fuel cell mine haul trucks at our Mogalakwena PGM mine, is a prime example of this approach.

nuGen™ – Anglo American’s Zero Emissions Haulage Solution

nuGen™ represents a different way of thinking about mining; one that, aligned with our FutureSmart Mining™ programme, brings together technology, digitalisation and sustainability, with step-change innovation intended to transform the very nature of mining.

This broader objective is behind the nuGen™ Zero Emission Haulage Solution (ZEHS) project, an end-to-end integrated green hydrogen production, fuelling, and haulage system for mine sites.

The world’s lightest 510t truck

The pilot for nuGen™ is a hydrogen-powered ultraclass mine haul truck. It’s an ambitious project that marks the first time a truck of this size and load capacity (a 220t truck with a load capacity of 290t = a total laden weight of 510t) has been converted to run on hydrogen that will be produced on-site in hybrid combination with a battery.

Retrofitted from a diesel-powered vehicle, the nuGen™ truck uses a hybrid hydrogen fuel cell to provide roughly half of the power and a battery pack the other half, enabling energy recovery from braking. Hydrogen enters the fuel cell from the tank and mixes with oxygen to create water in a chemical reaction catalysed by platinum. This generates electricity which is then used to power the motors that drive the wheels. The only emission from the vehicle is water vapour.

The 2-megawatt hybrid battery/hydrogen fuel cell powerplant, which replaces the diesel engine installed, has been designed by Anglo American and its partner First Mode in Seattle, USA. The power management and battery systems in the truck have been developed to improve overall efficiency by recovering energy when the haul trucks travel downhill, through regenerative braking.

This energy stored in the battery extends the truck’s range and reduces the out of cycle time for the trucks, since hydrogen refuelling is significantly faster than recharging batteries. It also reduces our dependance on external energy sources.

As part of the integrated nuGen™ solution, we have built a zero emission hydrogen production, storage, and refuelling complex for vehicles at Mogalakwena, which incorporates the largest electrolyser in Africa and a solar PV field to support the operation of the haul truck. ENGIE is the hydrogen producer and supplier in this proof-of-concept project.

Looking to the future

We plan to retrofit 40 diesel powered ultra-class haul trucks at Mogalakwena to hydrogen, before rolling out the technology across our global fleet of around 400 trucks. The launch of nuGen™ provides a real-world case for the wider adoption and use of hydrogen across the heaviest duty forms of transport.

With haul trucks representing up to 80% of diesel emissions at our mine sites, this technology will make a major contribution towards our operational carbon neutrality target. The truck is a tangible example of the technology advances that are needed to enable the global shift towards more sustainable, affordable hydrogen power, and of the way investment in infrastructure and innovation can deliver a clear vision for the future.

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