Group photo from the HySecunda kick-off meeting of the entire consortium - © Fraunhofer IMWS

Scalable solutions for green hydrogen production in South Africa

South Africa could play an important role as a reliable producer of green hydrogen - also as a supplier for Germany - in the coming years. However, there are currently challenges in the storage and distribution of the raw material. This is where the recently launched Fraunhofer joint project "HySecunda", in which nine Fraunhofer Institutes and the Fraunhofer Academy are cooperating, comes in. The project aims to find optimised solutions for the production, storage and certification of green hydrogen. The consortium is also providing support in capacity building in the region and in current projects on hydrogen-based fuels for aviation.

South Africa has abundant renewable energy sources such as sun and wind, which can be utilised to produce clean and sustainable hydrogen. The country could therefore play an important role as a hydrogen producer for Germany and Europe in the future if suitable infrastructure for hydrogen distribution and storage can be developed and production costs can be reduced in order to be competitive.

This is where the joint project "HySecunda" comes in, in which the Fraunhofer Institutes for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS, Energy Economics and Energy System Technology IEE, Energy Infrastructures and Geothermal Energy IEG, Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS, Silicate Research ISC, Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST, Wind Energy Systems IWES, Systems and Innovation Research ISI, Solar Energy Systems ISE and the Fraunhofer Academy are developing practical and scalable solutions for green hydrogen production in South Africa over a period of three years. As part of the project, solutions for capacity building are to be implemented, for example through a training and further education concept that addresses the country-specific needs of the 16-state Southern African Development Community (SADC region).

Market- and system-orientated solutions for the certification of green hydrogen

Another key topic for "HySecunda" is market- and system-orientated solutions for the certification of green hydrogen and its derivatives. These are a prerequisite for successful commercialisation and import to Germany and Europe.

At a technological level, the Fraunhofer Institutes are providing support in four key areas:

  • The development of novel sensor technology, which should, for example, enable better detection of leaks in tanks and pipes as well as early detection of corrosion and ageing processes.
  • Novel, combined oxygen/hydrogen barrier layers. Such layers prevent oxygen and hydrogen from penetrating into other parts of the electrolytic cell or into the environment. Improved solutions therefore increase the service life and safety of the components used.
  • More cost-effective coatings for bipolar plates (BPP). Such plates serve as conductive partitions between the individual cells. Due to the extreme demands placed on these components (temperature, pressure, electrical voltage, corrosive conditions), BPPs are usually made of titanium, graphite, steel or stainless steel and the surface is also coated with precious metals such as gold or platinum. Here, the consortium wants to test more cost-effective solutions that can withstand the extreme operating conditions and offer the necessary long-term stability.
  • Optimised solutions for porous transport layers (PTL). These support the efficient transport of gases, liquids and ions in the electrolytic cell and are placed between the electrode and the bipolar plate. Optimised PTL solutions can significantly increase the efficiency of the reaction.

Market- and system-orientated solutions for the certification of green hydrogen

"We want to bring Fraunhofer expertise to bear in order to contribute to energy security in Germany and Europe on the one hand and to establish long-term cooperation with the SADC region on the other, which will enable local value creation," says Prof Mario Ragwitz, co-spokesperson for the Strategic Research Field Hydrogen Technologies at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The HySecunda consortium will work closely with partners from the HyShiFT industrial project, which aims to produce hydrogen-based green aviation fuels and is also focussing on the opportunities in South Africa. The HySecunda partners, who met for a kick-off on 29 and 30 November 2023 in Halle (Saale), offer complementary expertise and approaches. "This is a good example of how our consortium can support and empower other projects in the region," says Ragwitz.

"For us, the HySecunda project is a very important milestone for the market ramp-up of green hydrogen and its derivatives. We are very pleased to support the production and use of green hydrogen and synthetic energy sources in South Africa with the expertise of nine different Fraunhofer Institutes," says Dr Klemens Ilse, Group Leader "Material Diagnostics for H2 Technologies" at the Fraunhofer IMWS, which is leading the project.

The Fraunhofer IEE in Kassel is responsible for the "Certification and Market" thematic block in the HySecunda project under the leadership of Jochen Bard, Head of the Energy Process Engineering research division. In this thematic block, market- and system-orientated solutions are being developed for the certification of green hydrogen and its derivatives for use and long-term safeguarding of imports to Germany and Europe. In addition, Fraunhofer IEE is working on a training and further education concept for the field of green hydrogen for the SADC region in the thematic block "Capacity Building". In this thematic block, Fraunhofer IEE and its scientists are building on its previous capacity building projects on PtX and green hydrogen in the MENA and SADC region.

The research project with a total volume of approx. 15 million euros is funded under the funding code 03SF0734A within the 7th Energy Research Programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology IEE