Beyond infrastructure plans – SA needs action, regulation to overcome water and waste crises

Major long-term infrastructure plans are necessary, but South Africa also needs to take immediate action to overcome current water and waste management problems and looming crises.

Stakeholders across the water, wastewater and waste management sectors report growing frustration at the lack of progress in averting crises, despite years of discussion and planning. Pointing to critical failures in water and wastewater service delivery and a looming crisis in landfills and waste management in much of the country, experts say South Africa appears to lack the will to take real action.

The experts emphasize that sustainable action plans must be implemented as a matter of urgency, with the government committing to enabling these plans, and independent regulators assigned to enforce their implementation. By moving now to address water and waste management problems, South Africa has an opportunity to delay or even avoid crises, and also to spark much-needed job creation in many sectors.

Urgent action needed on Water Master Plan

The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, designed to guide the water sector with investment planning for the development of water resources and the delivery of water and sanitation services, does address key issues, but falls short in some respects – notably that it is built on outdated data, that the situation has changed since it was drafted, and that little or no progress has been made in implementing it, stakeholders say.  

They urged the government not to delay further, and instead of attempting a massive and costly effort to address all challenges at once, to immediately start rolling out ‘quick win’ initiatives. Independent regulators to oversee the environments would be key to overcoming the current challenges, they noted.

“A plan without action is nothing really. If the goals of the water plan were achieved, we would see employment, empowerment, an improvement in the quality of water as a natural resource. But you need the political will and intent to start the process, and the funding will follow.”

Wayne Taljaard, Managing Director at WEC Projects.

Progress in the water and waste sectors are foundational to driving investment, economic progress and job creation, say stakeholders. Benoît Le Roy, Environmental, Technology & Project Alchemist, says: “Water is a fundamental economic enabler, so to attract investment you need to address the water challenges. A real problem is that all of our infrastructure is ageing, and by a decade ago our water reserve was 98% allocated. Investors know this and without water security, they won’t invest.”

“Government at the national level understands the realities, but addressing all the challenges is a massive task and we need to see all stakeholders working together, as well as the introduction of an independent regulator.”

New approach to PPPs needed

To help fast-track progress, traditional Public-Private Partnerships models should be re-programmed to create more collaborative and viable partnerships, they say. These new models could include outsourcing maintenance contracts, enabling private sector stakeholders to implement, own and manage key technologies, and bringing in independent water and waste providers as subcontractors to state entities.

The private sector approach in moving quickly, and applying new technologies and industry best practice can address problems quickly and efficiently, say the experts. In contrast, traditional government consultation and procurement processes tend to slow progress down to a virtual standstill. Frustratingly, they say, government departments seem reluctant to accept offers of assistance from the private sector – even when it is offered for free.

Says Dean Mulqueeny, Group Executive – AECI Water: “We have made offers to some municipalities to give them certain pieces of technology without any cost to them, which was unfortunately declined. During the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, we went directly to schools and a clinic at Hammanskraal to offer our assistance and fortunately the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality agreed. We invested around R3-million and got clean running water to 5 000 people within two months.”

Delays to drive skills out of SA

“There really is a lot of work in the pipeline in future – the Master Plan states R900bn which is R90bn per annum, that is more work than the water-related industry in South Africa could handle over the next ten years.”

Taljaard notes that if water and waste projects do not start soon, South Africa also risks losing key skills. “But we need to do something before all of these businesses shut their doors. The economy is in crisis, cash reserves are running low, there is no envisaged new work in the short- to medium-term, and people are downsizing their businesses or closing down. What happens next is the experienced people and the up-and-coming expertise goes abroad, so when the situation does turn in a few years’ time, we will have a major skills crises and we will have to import skills.”

Private sector approach needed to address waste management

Waste management consultant Kobus Otto says metros in parts of the country are facing a health and environmental crisis, as they are running out of landfill space and no progress has been made in developing new landfill sites.

“We have beautiful plans and pieces of legislation in South Africa, but little in the way of implementation and enforcement. Unless legislation and policies are enforced, they aren’t worth the paper they are written on,” he says.

Instead of current approaches that involve lengthy planning without sufficient research, the public sector should model its efforts on the private sector approach, which seeks to identify sustainable quick wins that are appropriate for the market or community they are deployed in. “For example, it would be far more cost-effective to make well managed landfill and public dumping facilities available within easy reach of communities, instead of continually having to clear illegal dumping – which is a huge expenditure annually,” he says.

Otto believes private sector approaches can go a long way toward solving the problem:

“We need to use Africa’s brainpower appropriately. We need to formalise informal systems and create markets and opportunities, which could create many new jobs and businesses.”

No room for further delays

Mulqueeny says: “The longer we wait to address the issue, the harder it is to fix. We need to start somewhere and work more closely together to make improvements. There are systems and technologies that could make significant improvements very quickly, and the private sector has the expertise and will to help the government deploy them.”

Suzette Scheepers, CEO of IFAT Africa presenters Messe Muenchen South Africa, says: “Collaboration and communication is the only way to address these challenges in a sustainable way. IFAT Africa is a platform designed to bring together key stakeholders across public and private sectors to do exactly that.”

IFAT Africa, the continent’s leading trade fair and forum for water, sewage, refuse and recycling industries, will bring together public and private sector stakeholders from across Africa to discuss challenges and solutions for the water and waste sectors.

For more information, go to https://ifat-africa.com/

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Coca-Cola rains in local communities

To remind South Africans of the value of water and the need to protect and conserve our country’s water resources, the newly appointed Vice President of the South Africa franchise at Coca-Cola Africa, Phillipine Mtikitiki, is prioritising key sustainability issues such as water stewardship.

“Access to safe water remains a challenge in many of the communities in which we operate in South Africa and we, together with our bottling partners, have made it a priority to improve reliable access to safe water, to protect our water resources and replenish the water we use back into nature,” says Mtikit.

South Africa faces a number of challenges when it comes to water, but Mtikitiki says:

Partnerships between government, the private sector, NGOs and communities can help to improve reliable access to safe water and protect our water resources in a world affected by climate change.


“We are improving the overall water-use efficiency in our manufacturing plants as well as along our supply chain, partnering with government and communities to assess, understand and drive effective, long-term water stress solutions and replenish the water we use back to communities and nature,” she says.

When it comes to replenishing the equivalent of the water used in the making of its beverages, The Coca-Cola Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) focuses on replenishing water into nature in key watersheds by clearing alien invasive plants. These consume millions of litres of water each year, resulting in water shortages permanent loss to an already stressed water system.

Since 2019, RAIN has worked with partners such as The Nature Conservancy, World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa (WWF-SA), Living Lands and the Endangered Wildlife Trust to clear 3 400 hectares in South Africa’s priority catchment areas, helping to replenish over an estimated 15-billion litres of water into nature over the next decade. The programme also provided employment and skills training for 389 women and young people in rural areas of South Africa.

“Access to water is inextricably linked to the economic empowerment of people.”

Vice President of the South Africa franchise at Coca-Cola Africa, Phillipine Mtikitiki

“Water is a valuable natural resource whose management requires all our commitment and collective actions.”
This is part of the motivation for local bottling partner, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa’s (CCBSA) Coke Ville Groundwater Harvesting Project, which provides access to water in certain water-scarce, remote communities with limited economic opportunities. This has taken place in the community of Tshikota, Limpopo, with five additional community access projects planned for deployment across KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape in March.

The target is to deliver over 60-million litres per year by the end of 2021.

Relief water also plays an important part of humanitarian operations to bring relief to drought-stricken communities.
Since the beginning of the year, Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages (CCPB) has been working with local municipalities in water-stressed regions in the Northern and Western Cape, leading relief water operations to assist communities. This has been a lifeline for people in these communities that have, at times in the past few weeks, been without water for up two days.

Expanding on its efforts in the Namakwa and Karkarms district in the Northern Cape, CCPB is now working to provide water relief to Merweville, Laingsburg and Touws River. To date, CCPB has delivered over 3-million litres of water using the tankers it invested in during the drought crisis to assist communities as well as providing specially produced Relief Water in 1L bottles.

“We’re confident that through our water stewardship efforts we will continue to make a difference and protect this most valuable resource,” concluded Mtikitiki.

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The Kipling | Coca-Cola Collaboration: luxurious, iconic fashionable bags

Kipling makes iconic fashionable bags from PET bottles

Kipling, a well-recognised and desirable fashion bag brand, sold in-store at Frasers, has partnered with Coca-Cola to produce an iconic range of bags in their Live.Light Responsibly campaign. The Kipling | Coca-Cola collab uses material from PET bottles, 272 129 of them now saved from landfill, woven into durable ripstop material in Coca-Cola’s famous red and white.

Kipling knows that we are responsible for the impact our products have on the planet and are committed to Live.Light by constantly reimagining designs, rethinking material, repurposing energy, and reconnecting to people and the planet.  

This collaboration for the Kipling SS21 collection is a refreshed and hip take on the brand’s efforts to be more responsible. We are confident our astute and stylish customers will appreciate and love the classic Coca-Cola look. Some of Kipling’s best-selling models have been revamped for this trendy partnership, like the Art Medium bag – a Kipling darling. All the new designs in the collab have fantastically fun zipper pulls inspired by aluminum can pull tabs.

For the collab, Kipling’s versatile Art Mini has a more subtle 3D embossed detail, reminiscent of the bubbly effervescence of the world’s favourite drink, with the Coca-Cola logo peering through. This over-the-shoulder is perfect for an evening on-the-go. Or check out Kipling’s stylish Creativity XB Crossbody, also available in the new Coca-Cola look, great for running errands or a night out on the town.

Kipling is committed to doing better by lightening their step on the planet one bag at a time. This partnership with Coca-Cola creates an optimistic and wearable message about how you can – and are – positively impacting our future. Kipling has always aspired to be more than a bag brand, but to represent a positive, light-hearted mentality, and a free-spirited, inclusive outlook on life. We hope this trendy, fun and responsible collab will inspire customers to live light, especially at a time when the world can feel pretty heavy.

Find the Kipling | Coca-Cola collaboration online at Kipling (www.kipling.co.za) or at a Frasers store near you. Sign up to the Kipling newsletter on the website and stand a chance to win a Kipling Art Mini Tote, valued at R2,599.95. Follow Kipling @KiplingSouthAfrica.

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SA’s Pegasus Vertical Business Jet gets ready for lift-off

The Pegasus Vertical Business Jet (VBJ), being developed in South Africa, is entering its next phase with two quarter-scale models to be ready for testing and engineering by May 2021 and a full-scale unmanned hover model by the end of the year. This follows the successful hover demonstration of a 1/8-scale model in July last year and the registration of patent rights in South Africa, Europe, and the US.

The aircraft is set to revolutionise business travel globally and free travelers from the burden of the time-consuming drive to the airport. The aircraft, that combines and enhances the characteristics of a helicopter with the luxury, range, and speed of a business jet, has been hailed by the urban mobility project as the sixth most likely to succeed globally in a 2019 independent review by Abbott Aerospace. The review included 100 different projects, including some sponsored and supported by Boeing, Airbus & various governments around the World as well as venture capital companies with billions of Dollars in funding.

“Most of these are of the air taxi type, therefore, more compelling and exciting for us, is that we were ranked first in the VTOL airplanes aimed at business jet type mission profile,” says Dr. Reza who first conceptualized the Pegasus VBJ. Dr Reza, one of South Africa’s most renowned practitioners in the field of aesthetic medicine and an avid aeronautics scholar, was the founder CEO of Pegasus Universal Aerospace and now serves as chairman of the company.

He expects the aircraft to turn the market for helicopters, business jets and short-range electronic vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) craft on its head.

Feasibility studies have valued the potential market at $2-trillion over twenty years. With a wingspan of 14.8m the Pegasus VBJ can take off and land on any helipad, but thanks to its cool-air fan technology also on grass, wooden decks and even moving surfaces like a yacht, something that eVTOL craft cannot do. This means the Pegasus VBJ can free busy executives from the time-consuming trip to the airport, even on long-range flights. It can also provide a solution for dense urban areas where space to build airports are limited. The aircraft seats seven people, including the pilot and has a range of 4400km from a runway take-off and 2124km from vertical take-off. Its endurance is 6.6 hours (runway) or 3.18 hours (VTOL).

Flight speed is up to 796km/h.

The unique flight control system being developed by Callen Lenz in the UK will ensure enhanced safety and ease of flight from a pilot’s perspective. Pegasus has partnered with Centurion-based aeronautical engineering company Epsilon Engineering Services in the further development of the aircraft. Transportation & Industrial designer Tamir Mizrahi joined Pegasus in January 2021 as the VBJ’s exterior & interior innovation designer. The company is already working with AWS Amazon to develop a smart manufacturing facility with Artificial Intelligence and robotics.

In 2019 the Pegasus Universal Aerospace appointed Robbie Irons, who has extensive experience in business aviation with companies like ExecuJet and Bombardier as CEO and since aviation heavyweight Andrew Dietrich joined the company as chief pilot and head of flight operations. The developers are currently raising funds with an offer of profit sharing for investors participating in its seven-year note. The minimum investment is R10 000. Dr Reza says the current fundraising is the third of its kind. While there is a total of R261-million’s worth of shares available, the immediate target is R30million – R40 million.

“We have more than delivered on the promises made at our previous fund raising. It is a big responsibility to work with other people’s money and we make sure that we stretch each rand as far as possible,” Dr Reza says.

Offers to become part of this unique project close in June. The prospectus and a full presentation are available at https://pegasusua.com/

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SEIFSA urges M&E businesses to showcase their environmental stewardship


APRIL 2021 – The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation
of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) once again calls on companies in the Metals and
Engineering (M&E) sector to submit their entries for the 2021 SEIFSA Awards for
Excellence in the Environment Stewardship Award category.

Now in their seventh year, the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence seek to promote and
reward innovation and excellence in the M&E sector, with this year’s entrants to be
assessed on their performance during the period 1 July 2019 to 31 December 2020.
The Environment Stewardship Award celebrates a company that has taken
the environmental challenges that confront the world seriously and has successfully
implemented the necessary steps to ensure that the natural environment is preserved.

The company will have demonstrated in its entry that it has gone out of its way to
invest in the environment and has successfully implemented initiatives in its day-to-day business operations.

In 2019, the Award was won by Babcock for its water conservation initiatives. The
company had taken it upon itself to protect, control and conserve water usage in the
business through several initiatives, including using water meters at its different sites
and reusing water.

“South Africa faces significant environmental challenges such as water scarcity and
air pollution. Together as the business community, we need to find lasting solutions to
these challenges. By showcasing companies mitigating their negative effect on the
environment through sustainable initiatives, we not only create a platform to engage
on how to further protect our environment, but we also offer examples that other
companies can emulate,” said SEIFSA Chief Executive Kaizer Nyatsumba.

The Award ceremony will take place on 20 May 2021 at a venue yet to be confirmed.
In addition to the Environmental Award, the other categories include:
• Most Innovative Company of Year;
• Health and Safety Award of the Year;
• Best Corporate Social Responsibility Programme of the Year;
• Customer Service Award of the Year;
• Most Transformed Company of the Year; and
• The Artisan Award of the Year.

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#SaveRalph: Short film aims to ban animal testing in SA

Hollywood filmmakers and movie stars have joined forces with Humane Society International to produce a powerful stop-motion animated short film, #SaveRalph, to end cosmetic testing on animals around the world, including South Africa. Although banned in 40 countries, the practice is still legal in most of the world, and is even making a comeback in some regions, subjecting untold thousands of animals to needless suffering and death.

Taika Waititi, Ricky Gervais, Zac Efron, Olivia Munn, Pom Klementieff, Tricia Helfer and others have come together to help HSI change that by providing the voices for the #SaveRalph film, which aims to shine a light on the suffering animals endure and engage consumers and policymakers in HSI’s mission to ban it. Writer and director Spencer Susser (Hesher, The Greatest Showman) and producer Jeff Vespa (Voices of Parkland) teamed up with the Arch Model studio of puppet-maker supreme Andy Gent on the production to bring Ralph to life. The film is also being launched in Portuguese, Spanish, French and Vietnamese with Rodrigo Santoro, Gad Elmelah, Denis Villeneuve, George Lopez and others voicing the characters in those languages, and Maggie Q providing a video message of support.

Meet the voices of Ralph and his Friends

Find the short film and educational materials on the current status of animal testing and how you can help at hsi.org/Ralph

Jeffrey Flocken, Humane Society International’s president, says:

“Save Ralph is a wake-up call that animals are still suffering for cosmetics, and now is the time for us to come together to ban it globally. Today we have an abundance of reliable, animal-free approaches for product safety assurance, so there’s no excuse for making animals like Ralph suffer to test cosmetics or their ingredients.”

The film features HSI’s campaign spokesbunny Ralph, voiced by Taika Waititi, being interviewed as he goes through his daily routine as a ‘tester’ in a toxicology lab. HSI’s #SaveRalph campaign tackles the disturbing issue of animal testing by using the story of one rabbit to shine a light on the plight of countless rabbits and other animals suffering at this very moment in laboratories around the world. It engages viewers to help ban animal testing of cosmetics once and for all.

Director, Spencer Susser says: “One of my favorite things about stop-motion animation is that every frame is a choice. Sadly, animals don’t have that choice but the magic of stop-motion gives us the tools to give Ralph a voice. It’s so important that Ralph feels real because he represents countless real animals who suffer every day. We hope that audiences will be moved to get behind Humane Society International’s campaign to ban animal testing of cosmetics once and for all.”

Ricky Gervais says:

“Animal testing just makes me angry. There’s no justification for dripping chemicals in rabbits’ eyes or force-feeding them to rats just to make lipsticks and shampoo. Science has evolved enough to give us non-animal solutions to end this terrible cruelty—it’s time for our humanity to catch up.”

The campaign is focused on 16 countries including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, and 10 Southeast Asian nations, with partner organizations, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund, focused on legislation in the U.S. HSI is also standing up for bans that are already in place, like in Europe where authorities are attempting to exploit a legal loophole by demanding new animal testing of cosmetic ingredients under chemical law. #SaveRalph will shine a spotlight on all these countries, driving them toward the cruelty-free future that the public and consumers expect.

Joseph Mayson, HSI-Africa’s campaign manager, says: Sadly, there’s no happy ending for animals like Ralph, but by working together we can ensure that no animal is ever again made to suffer in the name of beauty. It’s easy to assume that companies are the problem, but the truth is they are a vital part of the solution. It’s laws that need to be changed, and industry leaders like Lush, Unilever, P&G, L’Oréal and Avon are working with us to secure meaningful animal testing bans in many of the world’s most influential beauty markets. We’ve recruited Ralph as our spokesbunny to help get these laws over the finish line.

Over 90% of South Africans support a ban on animal testing for cosmetics, so with industry and the public on our side, we believe it is only a matter of time before South Africa joins the 40 countries that have already banned this practice.” 

The #SaveRalph short film and educational materials on the current status of animal testing, as well as information about how you can help, are available at hsi.org/save-ralph

Follow HSI on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Fast facts:

  • Recent polling shows that 90% of South Africans support a ban on cosmetic testing on animals.
  • In some parts of the world, rabbits like Ralph are locked in neck restraints and have cosmetic products and ingredients dripped in their eye and on to the shaved skin on their back. Guinea pigs and mice have the chemicals spread on their shaved skin or on their ears. None of these animals are given pain relief, and all of them will be killed at the end.
  • Animal testing for cosmetics is banned in 40 countries. HSI and partners were instrumental in securing bans in India, Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea, Guatemala, Australia and 10 states in Brazil. Such testing is also banned in Turkey, Israel, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and in the U.S. states of California, Illinois, Nevada and Virginia.
  • More than 2 000 “cruelty-free” beauty brands are available worldwide, including Lush, Garnier, Dove, Herbal Essences and H&M. These companies produce safe products by using ingredients with a history of safe use, together with modern animal-free safety assessment tools.
  • No single global shopping guide yet exists, but HSI recognises LeapingBunny.org, BeautyWithoutBunnies, Logical Harmony, ChooseCrueltyFree, and Te Protejo as useful resources.
  • HSI warns that even cruelty-free cosmetics are in jeopardy if chemical safety legislation continues to demand new animal tests for chemical ingredients used exclusively in cosmetics. That’s why the #SaveRalph campaign prioritises getting test bans in place and robustly defended.
  • In addition to pursuing legislative bans, HSI and partners are collaborating to develop a training programme in animal-free safety assessment to support smaller companies and government authorities transition from animal testing to state-of-the-art non-animal methods, which are readily available and better at assuring human safety than the animal tests they replace. 

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Time to get real: amid the hydrogen hype, let’s talk about what will work

For 50 years hydrogen has been championed as a clean-burning gas that could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The idea of a “hydrogen economy” is now enjoying a new wave of enthusiasm — but it is not a silver bullet. Amid the current hydrogen hype, there is little discussion about when the technology can realistically become commercially viable, or the best ways it can be used to cut emissions.

Here’s where we can focus hydrogen investment to get the best bang for our buck.

An industrial skyline
A poorly targeted hydrogen strategy will slow emissions reduction. AP

Hydrogen sucks up energy and space

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but rarely is it freely available. It must be unlocked from water (H2O) or fossil fuels such as methane (CH4), then compressed for transport and use. These steps waste a lot of energy.

To be transported, for example, hydrogen must be kept under high pressure or extremely low temperature. And in terms of energy storage, even heating up stones is more efficient.

The world must reach net-zero emissions within 30 years to avert the worst climate change. That means using renewable energy as efficiently as possible to maximise emissions reductions and minimise the land space required. So we must be strategic in how and where we use hydrogen.

Hydrogen pathways. Staffell et al 2018. The role of hydrogen and fuel cells in the global energy system.

Use hydrogen in places electricity won’t go

In most applications, renewables-based electrification has emerged as the most energy efficient, and cost-effective way to strip emissions from the economy.

Yet there are some industries where electrification will remain challenging. It’s here renewable hydrogen — produced from wind and solar energy — will be most important. These industries include steelcementaluminiumshipping and aviation.

A renewable hydrogen export market may also emerge in the long-term.

Renewable hydrogen will also be important to replace existing hydrogen produced by fossil fuels. But this alone will require a significant increase in electricity generation, to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This is a major challenge.

What about cars and trucks?

Road transport is one area where we believe hydrogen will not play a major role. In fact, Telsa founder Elon Musk has gone as far as to call hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles “mind-bogglingly stupid”.

Hydrogen vehicles will always consume two to four times more energy than battery electric vehicles. This is simply due to the laws of physics, and cannot be resolved by technological improvements.

In the case of hydrogen-powered vehicles, this will mean higher costs for consumers compared to battery-electric vehicles. It also means far more space for solar panels or wind turbines is needed to generate renewable energy.

What’s more, electric vehicles already have longer driving range and continuously expanding charging infrastructure, including ultra-fast chargers.

Comparing the amount of electricity that is lost for hydrogen cars versus electric cars. Volkswagen AG

Most global car makers have recognised the lack of advantage for hydrogen cars and instead invested about US$300 billion in the development and manufacturing of electric cars. Toyota and Hyundai — the last main proponents of hydrogen cars — are also ramping up efforts on electric cars.

As for trucks, the US Department of Energy does not expect hydrogen semi-trailers to be competitive with diesel until around 2050, mainly due to the high cost and low durability of hydrogen fuel cells.

While hydrogen trucks may have a role to play in 20 to 30 years, this will be too late to help reach a 2050 net-zero target. As such, we must explore energy-efficient options already widely deployed overseas, including electric trucks, electrified roads and electrified trailers.

A hydrogen vehicle at a refuelling station
Hydrogen vehicles are less energy-efficient than electric vehicles. Kydpl Kyodo/AP

A truly strategic plan

Hydrogen derived from fossil fuels is currently used to make products such as fertiliser and methanol. Supporting the transition to renewable hydrogen for these uses will be an important first step to scale up the industry.

If produced at regional shipping ports close to aluminium, steel or cement plants, this will provide further opportunities to expand renewable hydrogen use to minerals processing, while creating new jobs.

As hydrogen production scales up and costs fall, excess hydrogen would be available at ports for fuelling ships — either directly or through a hydrogen derivative like ammonia. Hydrogen gas could also be used to make carbon-neutral synthetic fuel for planes.

If an international export market emerged in the future, this strategy would also mean renewable hydrogen would be available at ports to directly ship overseas.

Finally, if the development of hydrogen truck technology accelerates before 2050, renewable hydrogen would be available to power the significant number of semi-trailers that travel to and from shipping ports.

Shipping containers and cranes at a port.
Daean Lewins/AAP

Let’s get real

Renewable hydrogen is a scarce and valuable resource, and should be directed towards sectors most difficult to decarbonise.

Delaying the electrification of road transport and energy on the promise of hydrogen will ultimately only benefit the fossil fuel industry.


Courtesy: The Conversation

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Government, private sector collaborate to build SA’s Hydrogen Platinum Valley

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) is collaborating with companies in the energy sector to carry out a feasibility study for the establishment of a Platinum Valley. The collaboration agreement is led by DSI, partnering with Anglo American, energy and services company ENGIE, and clean energy solutions provider Bambili Energy. The feasibility study, which is the first phase of the Platinum Valley initiative, will drive the planning, design, construction and commissioning of projects related to the development of a Hydrogen Valley.

The project will be implemented through the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), which will also fund projects to take intellectual property through the Hydrogen SA (HySA) centres of competence to market in partnership with the private sector.

“The study will support plans to create a Hydrogen Valley along the Bushveld complex and larger region stretching from Anglo American’s Mogalakwena platinum mine near Mokopane to Johannesburg and Durban,” DSI explained.

The study aims to identify tangible opportunities to build hydrogen hubs in this key economic and transport corridor, leveraging the regional platinum group metals (PGMs) mining industry and exploring the potential for hydrogen production and supply at scale. 

“PGMs play an important role in polymer electrolyte membrane electrolysis used to produce hydrogen, as well as in hydrogen fuel cells,” DSI explained.

The DSI said the agreement has the potential of creating direct opportunities for economic and community development while contributing to decarbonisation efforts.

Meanwhile, the department believes that science, technology and innovation will play a key role in supporting the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan for South Africa. 

The Hydrogen Valley is one of the first projects that will be implemented in partnership with the private sector to support the Platinum Valley initiative. 

In addition, small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) will be supported to take advantage of opportunities in the green economy as part of the just transition to a green economy.

“The aim is to boost economic growth and job creation, drive the development of new industries, increase value-add to the country’s platinum reserves, and reduce the country’s carbon footprint.”

Also, hydrogen and fuel cells offer several advantages to the transport sector – comparable refuelling times to internal combustion engine vehicles, longer ranges and space efficiency.

Anglo American is deemed as one of the leaders in initiatives to promote the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells vehicles for commercial use, facilitating the creation of consortiums of industry partners to promote the development of hydrogen freight corridors in the United Kingdom, South Africa and China, among others. 

Anglo American’s PGM business CEO, Natascha Viljoen, said: “The transition to a low-carbon world is an opportunity to drive the development of cleaner technologies, create new industries and employment, and improve people’s lives”.

She said the company was an early supporter of the global potential for a hydrogen economy, recognising its role in enabling the shift to greener energy and cleaner transport.

“Our integrated approach includes investing in new technologies, supporting entrepreneurial projects and advocating for policy frameworks that enable a supportive long-term investment environment for hydrogen to deliver that potential,” she added.

Meanwhile, the department said Bambili Energy has played a pivotal role in ensuring that the HySA catalyst and membrane electrode assemblies developed by the HySA Catalysis centre of competence are integrated into commercial products through its partnership with global original equipment manufacturers. 

ENGIE, a French company, aims to accelerate the transition towards a carbon-neutral economy through reduced energy consumption and more environmentally friendly solutions.

It has provided co-funding for the techno-economic analysis that will be conducted on identified hubs within the Hydrogen Valley corridor. 

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BioTherm Energy pioneer’s avifauna zero-loss programme

Working in collaboration with conservation organisations, BioTherm Energy’s Excelsior Wind Energy Facility, in the Western Cape, is pioneering the wind industry’s approach to conserving avifauna. The programmes that are being implemented go beyond looking at the potential impact of their wind farm on birds through mitigation, but are also aimed at a net gain in priority species, including Cape Vulture, Black Harrier, Verreaux’s Eagle and Martial Eagle. 

The on-site mitigation programme to avoid losses includes an industry-first implementation of an observer-led ‘Shut Down on Demand’ (SDOD) system for priority species.

The SDOD system is implemented through notification by a team of bird monitors to the wind farm’s on-site operations room, where individual wind turbines are switched off when the priority species are in the vicinity and switched on again once the bird has passed by.

This SDOD system, which was piloted in August 2020 before being fully implemented, has to date resulted in no less than sixty SDODs being successfully called for.

“This direct mitigation through shutdowns has resulted in zero loss of priority species to date, meaning that we can proudly say that there have been no turbine collision fatalities so far, and we expect the same into the future.”

Libby Hirshon, BioTherm Energy’s Sustainability Director

Additionally, the programme provides local job creation. The eight biodiversity monitors, who are predominately female, in addition to their supervisor, have been recruited from the surrounding communities.  The team of monitors is sited at three vantage points, seven days a week, and is responsible for the implementation of this rigorous programme through active communication with the operators.

BioTherm Energy also recognises that in the Overberg region, where the Excelsior Wind Energy Facility is situated, many bird species are also susceptible to powerline collisions, which has been well documented by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). This poses a significantly greater threat to certain species than wind turbines, including South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane.

“We approached the EWT to discuss potential conservation initiatives, and the result was the rollout of over four thousand bird flight diverters to mitigate avifauna fatalities along high-risk powerlines near, but not directly associated with, our project. We believe that this initiative will prevent needless collisions by Blue Cranes, Cape Vultures, and a host of other raptors. We have no doubt that, through this kind of collaboration, we can create innovative solutions where both conservation and renewable energy can coexist and even enhance each other,” commented Hirshon.

The EWT’s Wildlife and Energy Programme Programme Manager, Lourens Leeuwner, was recently reported in the media saying, “It is extremely encouraging to see an IPP actively seeking opportunities to conserve priority bird species in the regions surrounding their facilities. BioTherm Energy is actively engaging with project partners and looking to bolster conservation initiatives around their wind energy facilities”.

The wind farm’s off-site conservation activities also include work with the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) to provide funding for the securing of easements for the protection of the Renosterveld (a critical habitat for the Black Harrier).

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AECOM ready to help get R100bn Infrastructure Fund off the ground

AECOM, the global leader in integrated infrastructure, is poised to play a role in potential projects that have significant support from the R100-billion Infrastructure Fund announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address on 11 February. This is according to Africa MD Darrin Green, who comments that there are opportunities in student housing, digitalisation and water infrastructure – all areas where AECOM has extensive experience and expertise.

President Ramaphosa stated that the Infrastructure Fund will blend resources from the fiscus with financing from the private sector and development institutions. Such partnering between government and the private sector is essential to get these projects off the ground and achieve results. Green notes that the government has also committed R791-billion worth of funding towards infrastructure in the 2021 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). Here efficient procurement is key in terms of the government’s capacity to bring projects to market in a timely fashion.

“We are all aware of the need for sound procurement principles, but real innovative thinking needs to happen so that procurement can be dramatically accelerated to have the necessary impact on the economy – and quickly.”

AECOM Africa MD Darrin Green

He adds that the consulting engineering and construction sector has been in serious difficulty and shrinking for some time, certainly prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and is steadily losing skills and capacity to support the infrastructure drive. “The emphasis needs to be on fast-track procurement and delivery,” urges Green.

The biggest opportunities in terms of infrastructure in Africa at the moment are: energy (particularly renewables such as hydro, wind and solar power), Environment, Social and Governance (ESG), digital-related infrastructure such as data centres, and basic infrastructure, especially in terms of water management, reuse and sustainability. Capacity and skills remain a challenge, while funding is always a constraint, especially where budgets are being redirected.

Looking ahead, Green predicts that 2021 is likely to be a year of consolidation and adaptation for AECOM. “The vaccine rollout will play a major role in both South Africa and the rest of Africa in terms of bringing back economic activity and confidence. The consulting engineering industry is key to economic recovery, being second in the supply chain after government and client procurement.”

On the international front, AECOM recently announced its ‘Think and Act Globally’ strategy to extend its industry-leading, global expertise to each of its projects around the world, transforming the way it delivers work through technology and digital platforms, and enhance its position as a leading ESG company.

Green highlights that this strategy is having a major impact in providing access to in-house subject matter experts around the world. “We now have prioritised time to talk with our global counterparts and share our expertise, opening up our knowledge networks exponentially. Also, as our digital communication tools utilisation becomes mainstream, accessing this network remotely has never been simpler, allowing innovative new client solutions to be shared quickly and efficiently.”

Here the focus is increasingly on digitalisation and innovation. “We certainly see these trends accelerating, and perhaps more so in Africa, where innovation and digital technology can leapfrog and bridge the relative absence of hard infrastructure,” notes Green. AECOM is spearheading all aspects of digital design tools, including virtual environmental stakeholder digital rooms and virtual whiteboarding tools for client planning sessions in the client interaction and project stakeholder realm. The use of remote sensing, drones and digital tools on-site for streamlining inspection requests, test results and approvals is also becoming more prominent, as with the pilot site at the Polihali Western Access Roads project in Lesotho.

Responding to the ongoing challenge posed by Covid-19 and the altered working landscape, Green stresses the importance of collaboration in meeting clients’ requirements in this difficult time. Face-to-face meetings, for example, have evolved into more complex remote experiences. However, technology tools and platforms are catching up. “The key is flexibility and using digital and physical tools to enhance the client experience in a tangible way through to the delivery of the project. Clients are now more digitally aware; we can provide digital twins for projects once the modelling is complete and work together to have efficient data at our fingertips,” elaborates Green.

“It is important to note that we can leverage AECOM’s world-leading skills for our clients. We can assist in more areas than one might realise – from digital engagement tools to ESG advisory to hard infrastructure and project management and controls. We strive for the flawless delivery of our projects. Considering all environmental impacts is crucial; at the core of what we do is our belief in building sustainable legacies. Sharing our significant internal data and solutions certainly allows us to build on our innovative experiences so that we keep improving and staying ahead of the pack,” concludes Green.

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