Energy and chemicals group Sasol made announcements on Tuesday that potentially open the way for the coal- and gas-heavy company to begin an energy transition designed to reposition it as a green hydrogen major and a leading global producer of carbon-neutral jet fuel.
CEO Fleetwood Grobler announced that Sasol had decided to explore the creation, in partnership, of a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production demonstration facility, based on green hydrogen, at its Secunda operations, in Mpumalanga.
In addition, he announced that Sasol would partner with Toyota to jointly pursue the development of a “proof-of-concept demonstration for a green hydrogen mobility ecosystem in South Africa”.
A consortium comprising Sasol, Linde, ENERTRAG and Navitas would bid, Grobler said, to develop a SAF demonstration plant under the auspices of the German government’s H2Global auction platform.
To manufacture carbon-neutral jet fuel, the consortium would use renewable electricity to produce green hydrogen, through an electrolyser, which would split water into hydrogen and oxygen. In combination with carbon from unavoidable emissions, or a renewable source, the hydrogen will be combined with carbon monoxide to produce a synthesis gas, or syngas. Then, using Sasol’s proprietary Fischer-Tropsch technology, the syngas will be used to produce a wax-like output, from which “green powerfuels” would be refined.
“We know how to handle the wax output, in terms of storage and transport. And we know how to refine it optimally to produce the powerfuels,” Grobler said during a webinar co-hosted by EE Business Intelligence and the British High Commission and also addressed by South Africa’s Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel.
In fact, Patel used the occasion to announce that he had mandated the State-owned Industrial Development Corporation to lead government’s efforts to commercialise green hydrogen, which he said was set to become a key energy source as a growing number of countries and companies set net-zero carbon emission targets in response to the climate emergency.
“If the twentieth century becomes known as the century of crude oil (and nuclear energy); the twenty-first century may become known as the century of renewables and hydrogen,” Patel enthused.
Sasol already produced some 2.3-million tons of carbon-heavy ‘grey’ hydrogen yearly from coal and gas, which it converts into fuels and chemicals at Secunda, in Mpumalanga, and Sasolburg, in the Free State.
However, Grobler said that decarbonisation was a strategic imperative for Sasol, which had already set an official target of reducing its emissions by 10% by 2030, from a 2017 baseline of 63.9-million carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) tons yearly to 57.5-million CO2e tons.
The target has been heavily criticised as lacking ambition by various environmental groups as well as shareholder activists and Grobler told Engineering News in February that Sasol had also initiated work on a 2050 emissions reduction roadmap, which could incorporate a higher level of ambition.
He also reaffirmed the group’s aspiration to play a leading role in the establishment of a hydrogen economy in South Africa and to be a global leader in emerging power-to-liquids projects, especially in the production of sustainable aviation fuel.
South Africa’s potent sun and wind resources positioned the country well, Grobler argued, to produce cost-competitive green hydrogen and to create new export opportunities focused on products such as green steel, green ammonia, green hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel.
“Information on renewable resources lists South Africa alongside Australia, the Middle East, North Africa and Chile as the countries with the best renewable-energy endowments globally.”
HYDROGEN MOBILITY CORRIDOR
Meanwhile, together with Toyota, Sasol intended developing a “hydrogen mobility corridor” pilot project along the key N3 freight route between Durban and Johannesburg.
The announcement follows hot on the heels of confirmation that the Department of Science and Innovation was spearheading a feasibility study into a ‘hydrogen valley’ anchored in South Africa’s platinum group metals-rich Bushveld geological area. That collaboration agreement includes Anglo American, Engie, the South African National Development Institute, and Bambili Energy.
“To initiate the project, we have commenced the sourcing of fuel-cell electric trucks. In addition, we are evaluating the installation of a hydrogen refuelling station for the demonstration project,” Grobler said.
Toyota South Africa president and CEO Andrew Kirby confirmed the partnership and said that the larger Toyota group currently had a prototype development for a heavy-duty truck, alongside its fuel-cell buses and passenger cars.
“To access these technologies will require a sound value proposition from South Africa that is ultimately enabled through commitments by government,” Kirby said, while welcoming Patel’s commitment to accelerating the development of the hydrogen economy in South Africa.
The mobility partnership, Grobler said, would allow industry to gain valuable first-hand knowledge of hydrogen refuelling stations, the introduction of hydrogen into the heavy-duty truck supply chain and understanding the commercial drivers underpinning the hydrogen mobility value chain.
“During the pilot phase, part of the work will be focused on the creation of an enabling environment, including access to affordable finance, updates to licensing, regulations and tariffs.”
Grobler stressed that the initiatives were not the only two green-hydrogen projects on Sasol’s radar, confirming that the JSE-listed group was also pursuing various other demonstration opportunities and partnerships with the intent of enabling and taking advantage of technology developments and breakthroughs.
“Sasol is currently evaluating several opportunities to leverage our assets and Fischer-Tropsch technology to support South Africa’s energy transition.
“We are in the unique position where we can repurpose existing Sasol facilities and new investments to produce green hydrogen and a range of blue and green fuels and chemicals for the South African and export markets.
“We are in the process of exploring this in Sasolburg and Secunda. In addition, standalone greenfield projects are also being explored,” Grobler said.
Sasol would provide investors and stakeholders with greater insight into its decarbonation and green-hydrogen strategies at its upcoming Capital Markets Day, which would take place during the second half of the calendar year.