The global hydrogen market is expected to reach more than USD184-billion by 2025. Image credit: Roman | Pixabay

The global hydrogen market is expected to reach more than USD184-billion by 2025. Image credit: Roman | Pixabay

South Africa’s transition to what has been termed the new gold – the green economy – is set to unlock massive benefits not only for citizens, but for neighbours on the African continent.

This will, however, require significant investment in skills development, according to Yershen Pillay, the chief executive officer of the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA).

“Investing in the hydrogen research economy and successful workforce planning for a hydrogen-ready South Africa is an imperative which has already led to CHIETA embarking on an 18-month research project: A comprehensive study of hydrogen power in SA, which will assist us in supporting the hydrogen economy,” said Pillay.

Reflecting on the opportunities ahead of the Hydrogen Africa Conference and Expo which took place in Sandton on 28 and 29 September, Pillay said the CHIETA study, which is already underway, is being conducted in partnership with research groups and is aimed at not only skills development goals but also government and companies of all sizes within the chemical industries.

“We anticipate that the research would assist in identifying growth areas for skills and economic development,” Pillay added.

The comprehensive study of hydrogen power would focus on collecting and analysing documents, baseline data, and a literature review on the state of the hydrogen economy in South Africa. It will also examine producing a green hydrogen research report that responds to the project’s objectives.

Furthermore, CHIETA is working on a green hydrogen skills plan for the petrochemicals sub-sector. This will allow us to identify the top-10 skills in the green hydrogen economy and close the hydrogen skills gap by ensuring that talent is locally produced.

He noted that one of CHIETA member companies, Sasol, a key sponsor of the conference, is already playing a leading role in the green hydrogen economy through its research partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Northern Cape Economic Development and Investment Promotion Agency (NCEDA). CHIETA plans to collaborate with NCEDA to ensure a well-coordinated and shared response to skills planning for the green hydrogen economy.

Pillay revealed that the feasibility study for the production of green hydrogen in the Namakwa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is currently being conducted at Boegoebaai, a port located in the local municipality of Richtersveld. “Sasol hopes to establish the port as a global centre for green hydrogen production as our biggest member company and most significant skills levy contributor. Through projects and initiatives such as Sasol’s Boegoebaai research, a roadmap is being crafted that will stand the chemical industry in good stead and position the country as a global leader in the production of green hydrogen energy.

“As the chemical industry, we have a significant role to play in what is undoubtedly the next step in the evolution of renewable energy, not only on the continent but across the globe,” he said.

As part of the framework, Pillay said the future will be one of a massive expansion of renewable energy, battery storage, new energy vehicles, green minerals, and the hydrogen economy.

Mindful of the proximity in relations between South Africa and her neighbours, he said gains made from this will naturally have a spinoff for the continent, which is also driven by the African Union Green Recovery Action Plan (AU-GRAP) launched on 15 July 2021. Green energy estimates from the United Nations suggest that governments will spend annually between USD380-million and USD680-million on renewable energy infrastructure. Investing in developing the future skillset is paramount with the global hydrogen market expected to reach more than USD184-million by 2025.

“Green, if harnessed smartly, could indeed become the new gold, provided it is premised on a better life for all as part of a cleaner, greener future in South Africa – and on the African continent,” Mr. Pillay concluded.