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State mining training authority backing green hydrogen skills centre creation

Nedbank CIB Green Hydrogen Roundtable covered by Mining Weekly's Martin Creamer. Video: Creamer Media's Shadwyn Dickinson. Video Editing: Creamer Media's Nicholas Boyd

15th May 2024

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – “We’re very excited to announce that we’ll be establishing the first centre of specialisation of green hydrogen skills,” South Africa’s Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) CEO, Yershen Pillay, made public this week.

CHIETA is working on this with South Africa’s mining and transport sector education and training authority units, Pillay highlighted at this week’s Green Hydrogen Roundtable, hosted by Nedbank Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB).

The need for artisans and electrolyser technicians for what is expected to be a very fruitful new era of significant near-term growth for the South African economy was emphasised by Pillay at the far-reaching event covered by Mining Weekly. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

The very efficient proton exchange membrane, or PEM, electrolysers used to produce the green hydrogen are catalysed by platinum group metals (PGMs), which are hosted in the greatest abundance by South Africa, a country also extremely well endowed to provide the abundance of green electrons essential for the generation of green hydrogen molecules.

In addition, green hydrogen is convertible back into green electricity by fuel cells, which, once again, are catalysed by PGMs. Moreover, on the local manufacturing front, industrial-scale fuel cell and electrolyser components are earmarked for production at a facility within the OR Tambo Special Economic Zone, at Johannesburg's main international airport.

Pillay emphasised that the centre of specialisation would be able to produce the required technical skills, while many of South Africa’s chemical engineers could conceivably be upskilled to hydrogen systems engineers.

“We need to start planning now for 2030,” said Pillay, who emphasised the absolute necessity of the kind of collaboration that the event exemplified in bringing together banking, industry and government, represented on the day by Higher Education and Training deputy director-general Zukile Mvalo, who said: “Initiatives like this roundtable are critical to helping the country understand the importance of hydrogen. As a government, we’re resolutely committed to green hydrogen, particularly in our efforts to catalyse robust economic growth and generate meaningful employment opportunities, all in pursuing a cleaner, more sustainable energy future."

Structured agreements on mining, transport, manufacturing, chemicals and agriculture are emerging and CHIETA has established a R5-million fund with the University of the Witwatersrand to foster more investment into research and development on green hydrogen.

There are 354 green hydrogen fuelling stations in China for 13 000 PGM-based hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) and Pillay spoke of personally observing one of Japan’s 70 green hydrogen fuelling stations that had been repurposed to fuel FCEVs, such as Toyota's Mirai cars.

“We’re likely to catch up to the rest of the world and when that time comes, I’m sure that we’ll also create jobs for our own people, and that we’ll also have some startups and SMMEs,” Pillay remarked.

Green electrons and green molecules are presenting South Africa with a massive opportunity to reindustrialise, Nedbank CIB head of infrastructure, energy and telecommunications Mike Peo highlighted during the roundtable.

Peo drew attention to the massive opportunity that South Africa has to begin rebuilding the industrial base that the country has lost over the last 10 to 15 years, amid green hydrogen’s significant ecosystem of specific types of opportunity including those involving PGM-based fuel cells to power large mining equipment, trains and FCEVs.

At the other end of the scale, failure to go green could also result in major business hardship. For example, failure to green cold storage transport systems would seriously inhibit the export of fruit and vegetable products to countries with carbon border adjustment mechanisms.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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