Some economies like Europe for example, lack sufficient renewable resources as well as land to produce the amount of clean energy they require, opening up immense opportunities for Africa. “The global development of renewable hydrogen-based economies has the potential to convert Africa from an essentially developing continent and largely commodity exporter to a leading global producer and exporter of clean energy in the form of green hydrogen,” says Rajend Govender, newly-appointed CEO of thyssenkrupp Uhde Africa.
With its potential abundance of renewable energy resources in the form of solar radiation, wind, geothermal and hydropower, combined with the availability of large areas of non-irrigable land, the African continent is not only equipped to produce and export green hydrogen to meet global demand but it can also utilise this clean energy for its own requirements in sectors such as power, transport and agriculture. Many parts of the continent have daily solar radiation of between 4kWh and 6kWh per sqm.
In addition, an overall estimated wind potential of 460PWh (Petawatt) hours with the potential to meet a production cost target of 1.8 to 2.4 USD per kg, provides Africa with a significant cost advantage over most locations in Europe.
Whole suite of products
“Green hydrogen holds so much more potential than just a zero-carbon energy carrier. Once you have green hydrogen you have the flexibility to go many different routes. You can use hydrogen to create a whole suite of products such as green ammonia (an organic hydrogen carrier that is also used to produce fertilisers), explosives, green methanol, synthetic fuels, synthetic natural gas etc,” states Rajend.
Thyssenkrupp Uhde owns a large portfolio of chemical process technologies, one of which is large-scale alkaline water electrolysis, a process that uses direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction. It is also the process that produces green hydrogen using 100% renewable resources.
At the centre of the company’s electrolysis technologies is its patented large electrochemical cells which allow for very high efficiency in industrial scale green hydrogen production. “Our electrolysers, a technology that converts water and electricity into hydrogen, oxygen and heat, forms the heart of our hydrogen production plant with high availability of 98% and hydrogen purities of up to 99,99%. The principal design is well-proven and was born from our worldwide leadership in the design, construction and operation of hundreds of electrochemical plants for chlor-alkali production.
“Our technology is available in pre-fabricated, skid-mounted standard modules which facilitate and streamline the deployment of industrial scale hydrogen projects,” notes Rajend. These modules can easily be added to achieve the desired project size, with the potential of reaching hundreds of megawatts. The thyssenkrupp Uhde standard 20MW electrolyser module produces 4 000Nm3/h of high purity hydrogen and 2 000Nm3/h of medical grade oxygen.
Africa can use hydrogen to produce its own fertiliser for its substantial agricultural sector as well as synthetic fuel and green methanol to power agricultural machines, commercial and passenger vehicles. Rajend also points out that hydrogen has some leap frog potential for Africa. Europe for example, has large diesel and electric fleets that have the potential to be moved to hydrogen. Africa, on the other hand, with fewer internal combustion engine vehicles, has a distinct low-density and cost advantage; the continent can move straight to hydrogen, skipping the fast developing electric power transport era altogether.
Another important advantage offered by green hydrogen production is that it can be decentralised. “Being a massive continent with large distances and partially underdeveloped road infrastructure, the associated costs for transporting commodities such as fuel via road or air to remote mines and plants are high. The solution can be as simple as erecting a small decentralised unit to produce fuel on site. Not only is this a much more affordable route but the risk of delivery delays and subsequent downtime is eliminated.” Rajend adds that decentralised units can also be used to produce green methanol, for example.
But as many African countries still have coal-based economies and energy generation, this change will not happen overnight. Rajend says, however, that it is possible to capture and clean these CO2 embitters and use them together with green hydrogen to build new chemical elements.
The maturity of this clean technology is proven by the many projects thyssenkrupp Uhde has executed (among others, the recent commencement of a 2GW hydrogen plant in the Middle East) as well as its own installations in their main steel plant in Duisburg and thyssenkrupp’ s own Carbon-to-Chem Technology centre. Africa too will soon have its first hydrogen plant which is currently under construction in Morocco.
“It stands to reason that a company that develops green technologies must also have a green footprint,” says Rajend. thyssenkrupp, a global powerhouse with 160 000 employees and 200 sites in 80 countries, has been an A-listed green company for five consecutive years since 2015, achieving an A+ listing for the past four years. “We are also proud to be among the global top 5% out of more than 2 400 green companies and only one of seven companies in Germany to achieve this prestigious ranking. thyssenkrupp’s green journey presents a great example as encouragement to potential customers who also want to ‘become green’,” Rajen concludes.