Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Gwala: The US retail giant Walmart is storming into South Africa waving a big green wand.
Creamer: We don’t think of Walmart being a poster child for the green movement. We think of Walmart cutting prices and giving us the cheapest and the best. We know they certainly didn’t have a great environmental reputation in the United States. They are improving that and they have been doing it for the last five years.
Their first public statements in South Africa, after taking control of Massmart, a rather controversial 51 % of it and having to keep those jobs, has been on greenness and how to make sure that they can use energy far more sparingly and also manage their waste to a point of zero waste from their organisations from 2025. So this is a different sort of Walmart than the one we were used to.
They are putting a green foot forward in Africa and South Africa. These, of course, are 330 South African and African stores, which they now have. But, if you look elsewhere are the world they have now got very involved in the energy situation.
In Mexico, they have got their own wind farms supplying 348 of their stores. They are also saying that they are not averse to getting power here from independent power producers. But just as they cut food costs, they want to have a business case for going green. This is no altruism, this is making sure that you get your energy at a price that is lower that you can get it from the utilities.
Bringing in LED lights, light emitting diodes, and they put doors on the fridges and putting doors on the fridges of the merchandise has cut their electricity use by 70%. They are talking about cutting their carbon emissions by 20% next year, 2012 and recycling 60% of their water by 2015.
Gwala: So there is a business case for being green then. I’m sure those delegates who were down in Durban for the COP 17 are very happy to hear what Walmart is doing in this are.
South Africa’s Sasol has bought into the new billion-dollar climate-change technology project in Norway. Tell us about that.
Creamer: Again, this is around climate-change. Business is taking this seriously and of course, if you are in coal you have got to take it very seriously.
Sasol is very much in coal besides wanting to go for the gas side of the business now as we see with the gas-to-liquids. Their biggest revenue stream is still from coal-to-liquids.
They have taken a moderate percentage of this new project at Mongstad in Norway. This will be the biggest carbon-capture and storage project in the world. It will be a large-scale project to demonstrate that carbon-capture and storage is economically feasible, it does work and they are going to try two different methods of it in one go.
They are taking those emissions from a power station in Norway and they are looking at how they can capture and store those and they are also at the same time taking in the emissions from an oil refinery, because of course, Norway is big in oil. Sasol is partners there and has only got 2,4% of this and Shell also has 2,4%.
The biggest players are the Norwegians with Gassnova with 75% and Stant Oil 20%. The idea is to get access to this carbon capture technology so that you can continue to use coal, but in a clean way.
Gwala: Staying with this theme around carbon emissions, South Africa has a great opportunity to use platinum, which it has in abundance, to lower its high level of carbon emission.
Creamer: We hear from the naysayers that the cost of a low-carbon economy is too high and the climate change costs are to high, but what about the opportunities within this?
South Africa has a massive opportunity, because it has platinum. We have an abundance of platinum and it was good to see our Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe take the trouble to go into the COP 17 demonstration of the fuel cell.
He went to have a look at it himself, and I hope that is symbolic of the fact that the South African government is serious about using platinum to create stationary fuel cells, which of course, through the hydrogen can produce electricity and water. Also, the mobile fuel cells which will go into our cars.
It is incumbent on South Africa to make a big statement in fuel cells, because even the battery car is getting so much more publicity and a battery car is like a golf cart, you have to recharge the batteries.
You have got a fuel cell situation you don’t have the same range anxiety. With the 4kg of hydrogen in your car, you can take your family car to about 700 km, you don’t have the same range restrictions and the problems of refilling.
So, a massive statement has been made by Anglo American and Anglo American Platinum saying that hydrogen fuel cells using platinum catalysts, and the beautiful part for South Africans is that fuel cells can only use platinum and we have got an abundance of it. The fuel cells are efficient, versatile, you can scale them up on a big level.
You can take them out into the country and instead of having Eskom have this national grid having to spread very expensively into sparsely populated, far-flung areas, you can have a fuel cell there, and you can combine it with wind and you can combine it with solar.
When the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, it can get that hydrogen separated from the water and then when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, you can crack that hydrogen into electricity and again water. That is zero emission so you are going into a low-carbon world. It seems like a no brainer.
Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Martin will be taking his usual season break and will be back with us at the Coalface with his renewed vigour on the 20th of January next year. Martin, we wish you well over the festive season.