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South Africa ‘well placed’ to become green fuel maritime hub

South Africa holds an untapped opportunity to supply the global shipping industry with zero carbon fuels, a new report by Ricardo and Environmental Defense Fund reveals.

The report “South Africa: fueling the future of shipping”, issued on behalf of P4G Getting to Zero Coalition Partnership, states that country’s potential can be attributed to its vast renewable energy sources, geographical location, as well as economic development.

The energy requirement for South Africa’s shipping sector is dominated by large commercial vessels, mainly bulk carriers carrying products such as iron ore and coal.

Commercial cargo vessels, such as bulk carriers tankers and containers, arriving at South African ports are mainly international vessels.

South Africa’s largest trading partners by export and import; Courtesy of EDF

Having this in mind, the distribution of zero carbon fuels will not only benefit the South African shipping sector, but also the international shipping market.

Our study shows that South Africa has an abundance of renewable energy potential. It is enough to supply the country’s domestic electrical demand as well as the production of zero carbon fuels to supply commercial vessels refueling in its international ports,” Aoife O’Leary, Director, International Climate, Environmental Defense Fund commented.

O’Leary also pointed out that the” adoption of zero carbon propulsion technologies at South Africa’s ports could attract investment of between 122 and 175 billion Rand in onshore infrastructure by 2030.

Shipping’s demand for zero-carbon fuels could provide a constant long-term revenue stream, which is an attractive feature for investment,” noted Ingrid Sidenvall Jegou, Project Director, Global Maritime Forum.

Furthermore, the report identifies hydrogen and ammonia as the most suitable options for large commercial vessels while South Africa’s small domestic vessels can be supplied through direct electrification using onboard batteries and motors.

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As disclosed, the production of green hydrogen-derived fuels can help to meet decarbonization targets and act as a catalyst for the country’s economy, thereby opening new export markets, supporting an equitable transition, and creating the jobs of the future. 

With access to busy shipping routes, abundant renewable energy potential, and experience handling these and other fuels, South Africa is in a great position to produce the shipping fuels of the future, access a growing global market, and thus catalyze a new low carbon economy,” said Olivia Carpenter-Lomax, future energy specialist and project lead, Ricardo.

South Africa is already engaging in a number of initiatives related to green hydrogen.

The government’s Hydrogen Society Roadmap is under development and aims to integrate hydrogen into the economy by capitalising on the country’s mineral resources and renewable energy potential.

The adoption of zero-carbon shipping fuels does depend on global market requirements, but the report suggests that South Africa should consider that vessels adopting zero carbon fuels bunkering in various ports around the world must have the opportunity to refuel along their journey.

In the end, the report highlights the ports of Saldanha Bay, Ngqura (Coega) and Richards Bay as great examples of how South African can capitalize on a zero carbon fuel transition due to established shipping routes and significant port export hubs.

The SBIDZ supports this research in its efforts to stimulate solutions and investment into a global megatrend that is becoming the agenda of our time. It will require sustainable capital investment into new technologies, new vessel designs, new landside infrastructure and a shake-up of the services and logistics sub-sectors,” Kaashifah Beukes, Chief Executive Officer, Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone concluded.

Taking this into account, and the fact that international maritime transport is considered to be on the verge of an energy revolution, the study authors say that, within this decade, “the shipping industry must start to replace traditional heavy bunker fuel with new zero-carbon shipping fuels generated from renewable energy to meet decarbonisation targets.”

Adopting zero carbon shipping fuels is in line with South Africa’s commitment to reach International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) zero carbon target goals by 2050.