Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: A big technology breakthrough this week gave a massive boost to green energy of the cleanest kind.
Creamer: The cleanest kind is green hydrogen and the world is realising that, but one of the constraints was iridium. The iridium that we produce in South Africa, as part of our platinum group metals, is very scarce and is very expensive. This was one of the constraints for the electrolysing and the scale-up of green hydrogen in the world.
But that constraint has now been brilliantly removed by another platinum group metal, ruthenium. When you combine the two platinum group metals, you end up with a situation where there is no supply constraint, demand is met, the costs come down and you can scale-up green hydrogen, which is the only genuine clean energy for use in a world fighting climate change – and the world is realising that very fast.
Kamwendo: Germany this week announced that it will be funding the construction of a green hydrogen pilot plant in Namibia.
Creamer: Namibia is seen as a good place to produce green hydrogen. They= Namibians have strong relations with Germany. So, what Germany has done now is put millions of Euros into doing joint research into green hydrogen generation and vehicle refuelling. There will be research done in Germany and research done in Namibia and they will jointly put up a pilot plant near Walvis Bay, which will be built and ready in ten months.
There will also be a refuelling station so that the world can better understand how the green hydrogen is going to work, not only for mobility of cars, but also for the generation of clean, green electricity in distant sites that are not served by the electricity grid. The Germans are now working with the Namibians in a way that they will impart as much knowledge as they can to graduates from Namibia, so that Namibia can start exporting that clean, green hydrogen to Germany.
Kamwendo: Construction of a R14-billion metals project will begin in KwaZulu-Natal next year.
Creamer: This is fantastic news for South Africa. We produce mineral sands and one of the products is ilmenite, but we just export ilmenite without adding any value to it. As a result, we don't get anything like the price we can get if we produce a value added product from it. What they are going to do now in KwaZulu-Natal is to produce titanium dioxide pigment in Richards Bay, for which you can get 10 times more money than for raw, unbeneficiated ilmenite.
The titanium dioxide pigment that will be produced in the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone is used in a multiplicity of products, including paints, cosmetics, toothpaste, inks for your clothing, medicines and foods. So, it’s a very widespread product, but we have to import every bit of it into South Africa, even though its key raw material is mined in South Africa. Now, instead of exporting just the raw material and having to import the expensive, higher value material, we will now produce titanium dioxide pigment in South Africa, for use domestically and for export it into Africa, which is fantastic news.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.