Could a mega-partnership between Sasol and Toyota help create South Africa’s first ‘hydrogen highway’? Proposals have been made this week to create a ‘green corridor’ on the N3 – which connects Johannesburg to Durban. Under these plans, the route would be used to evaluate if fuel-cell-powered trucks could operate safely on one of SA’s busiest routes.
How would a ‘hydrogen highway’ work in South Africa?
Also known as ‘green hydrogen technology’, the alternative to an electric vehicle very much mimics the way petroleum and diesel are consumed inside a car engine. Toyota is hoping to have a fleet of HGV trucks fitted with hydrogen fuel tanks later this year, and if the project is successful, it will pave the way for an eco-revolution in Mzansi:
“We see the creation of these hubs or ecosystems as a practical or affordable way to scale deployment of hydrogen in the transport sector. The project between Johannesburg and Durban will commence as soon as various elements of the supply chain are available.” | Fleetwood Grobler, the CEO of Sasol, addressing a green energy webinar this week
Here’s how hydrogen fuel technology works
Look, we’ve been in this game long enough to know that when the topic gets tricky, you get help from an expert: Albert du Toit, who writes for TopAuto, gave a brilliant explanation about how these ‘hydrogen-powered vehicles’ actually work:
“Green Hydrogen is made from electrolysis and water: Vast amounts of electricity run through the water by means of electrodes (power conducting rods), and this causes a chemical reaction where the water splits into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then stored for use. These fuel cells are the main ‘green’ competitors to pure-electric cars.”
“As the name suggests, the fuel cell is a type of ‘battery’ in which the hydrogen can be pumped into and used to propel a vehicle. The cell will continuously create power as long as it has enough hydrogen in it, mimicking the process of an internal combustion vehicle. When it comes to filling up your vehicle’s tank, you use a pump – as you would with petrol.”
N3 between Johannesburg and Durban marked for ‘green highway experiment’
During his SONA speech back in February, Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that hydrogen technology would be used extensively across the country over the next decade. A number of schools and field hospitals have already been running on this cleaner fuel, and all being well, the N3 project could usher in a ‘new era of energy generation’.
“Through its Hydrogen South Africa Strategy, government and its partners have successfully deployed hydrogen fuel cells to provide electricity in schools and to field hospitals established as part of the country’s COVID-19 response. It presents an opportunity to build a local skills base and lead the country into a new era of energy generation.” | Cyril Ramaphosa