Special Interviews
Aug.17, 2023
Vol. 10
Looking Forward to Collaborations in Green Hydrogen That Leverage South Africa’s Strengths
Dr. Thulani Dlamini, CEO, CSIR
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Looking Forward to Collaborations in Green Hydrogen That Leverage South Africa’s Strengths

The Republic of South Africa, which also attended RD20 2022, boasts a wealth of platinum, manganese, diamonds and other resources. It has maintained a variety of technological alliances with other countries in relation to renewables by leveraging its position as a country rich in resources. It also actively builds reciprocal partnerships with developed nations on decarbonization, driving the spread of renewables and other topics that RD20 makes its themes. Dr. Thulani Dlamini, CEO of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), shared his thoughts about RD20 with us.

Dr. Thulani Dlamini, CEO, CSIR
RD20 2022

At last year’s RD20, CSIR gave a presentation introducing itself, and its members took part in several technical sessions. Meetings with participants from many of the G20 nations, during which CSIR members gave presentations on clean hydrogen and associated technologies, were apparently extremely meaningful. Dr. Dlamini states that conversations at the conference’s sessions and parties and feedback from the technical sessions were of a productive nature. Opportunities for networking with various people enabled his organization to feel out possibilities for synergy.

Optimization of South Africa’s Economy and Renewables

CSIR, whose environmental activities are numerous, works to solve social issues in such areas as climate change, biodiversity, and ecosystem management with a focus on protecting the environment. Giving thought to a circular economy, CSIR also gives attention to South Africa’s mining, manufacturing and numerous other industries as it harmonizes its efforts with the country’s economy.

The organization has an especially strong interest in cleaner energies. With eighty percent of South Africa’s power coming from coal, Dr. Dlamini says that working to make an energy transition that incorporates solar, wind and hydrogen is an issue that his country needs to solve immediately.

According to him, solar has seen rapid growth in South Africa, with installed capacity currently at over 6 GW. Solar and wind are useful precisely because of their unlimited nature. However, the amount of power they produce varies widely. Solar only generates during the day when the Sun is out, and the latter only produces power when fairly strong winds blow. This means that storing this power using storage battery systems is a must. However, as South Africa’s storage capacity is limited, further investment is needed in this area. There would seem to be value in deepening discussion about this issue further.

While renewables, storage and investment are complex challenges for South Africa and will not be solved easily, the country needs to come up with long-term plans to work them out. With a large portion of the labor force there involved in mining the coal that provides eighty percent of the country’s power, there will also be an employment issue to deal with. The challenges related to South Africa’s economic activities and making the transition to renewables become even more complicated with coal-fired plants being quality sources of power. However, decarbonization and climate change are global issues, and while South Africa cannot solve them alone it “will likely have no choice but to deal with them in the proper manner,” says Dr. Dlamini.

Collaboration a Necessity for South Africa

These challenges are precisely why CSIR is actively involved with many countries on renewables projects. One example is the renewable energy development it is carrying out with a multitude of partner companies and research institutes in Europe and the US. “For a small country (in terms of its economy) like South Africa, it is difficult to develop the services it needs on its own, so collaboration is key for an organization such as ours,” says Dr. Dlamini.

CSIR is not just focused on the development of renewable energy technologies. Dr. Dlamini says that its research centers are also currently working on a number of other technology solutions. This includes developing technologies for mining, transportation systems, health, defense and security. Other energy related areas of focus include small-scale embedded self-generation, microgrids, power grid modeling for use in simulations, grid analysis, power-to-X and carbon capture and utilization. They are also looking into ways to integrate microgrids into communities, how to design and operate smart energy systems, ways to optimize solar, wind and other renewable power sources for differing specialized areas, and specialized facilities(renewable energy storage testbeds and testing) and testing methods for solar systems. CSIR is also undertaking the creation of an ideal energy mix scenario for South Africa that uses a combination of renewables that are optimal for the country.

Differentiating with Green Hydrogen

When asked what topic will be specific to South Africa at October’s RD20, Dr. Dlamini indicates it will be discussions about green hydrogen and the opportunities for forming partnerships in that area. “South Africa is in an extremely unique position with regard to hydrogen energy on two points,” he states.

One is solar. Using natural solar energy to produce hydrogen instead of extracting it from peat means that it would be green. The other point is the abundance of platinum found in the country. As the catalyst for converting hydrogen from fuel cells, platinum is a vital and essential element. These two competitive strengths are South Africa’s advantage in the area of green hydrogen and would put it in a favorable position were it to export hydrogen to other countries.

Asked what he will speak about in relation to clean hydrogen at RD20 2023, Dr. Dlamini says, “while I still have not decided if I will be presenting myself, someone from my team will be attending the technical sessions, so this theme may end up being a topic touched on there.”

At a business forum planned and organized by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa held in June, South Africa, the Netherlands and Denmark launched a $1 billion green hydrogen fund. Dr. Dlamini, who was in attendance, gives the following assessment of the forum: “Hydrogen was the main theme of discussion there, this fund will certainly contribute towards the accelerated development of green hydrogen project in the country.”

RD20 a Platform for Collaboration

Dr. Dlamini sees RD20 as an extremely valuable platform not only for technical discussions about the global challenge of transitioning to green energy, but also because it enables researchers to speak with political and business leaders. “It is also a very useful place for updating global trends,” he states. Hydrogen could become a vital export product for South Africa and a driver that will accelerate the development of its economy. Moreover, sustainable energies are vital to securing new sources of energy that will serve as the fuel for that economy.

At RD 2023, Dr. Dlamini hopes to identify key large-scale innovation projects and move forward on them with CSIR’s partners. As a platform where researchers come together, RD20 is vital because there are chances for collaboration within discussions had with other attendees from around the world, while meeting again with colleagues can lead to other opportunities for partnership as well.

After last year’s RD20, Dr. Dlamini felt a strong desire for CSIR to immediately start a global collaborative project that will tackle the issues it is working on, namely climate change and global warming. “Our next step is likely to be that of implementing a global mega-project,” he says.

Kenji Tsuda Editor in Chief, Semiconductor Portal