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OPINION | Electric cars garnering interest, but does SA's future actually lie in hydrogen? – News24


  • Electric cars can help reduce emissions, but are they a viable long-term solution?
  • Toyota and Sasol will be working together to see if SA is ready for hydrogen roll-out.
  • Hyundai and Toyota already offer hydrogen powered cars for consumers in some parts of the world.
  • For motoring news, go to Wheels24

Did you know that although country-specific statistics may vary, as much as 95% of all greenhouse gas carbon-monoxide emissions in cities come from combustion engine exhausts?

Harmful gases such as nitrogen oxide from vehicle emissions can cause respiratory conditions, and other pollutants from cars are believed to be carcinogenic, too.

Toyota Mirai

Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell cutaway.

After rising steadily for decades, in 2020, the Covid-19 crisis triggered the most significant annual drop in carbon emissions since the Second World War, although levels had rebounded by December 2020 and were higher than they had been a year earlier.



Do you think hydrogen-powered cars could work in South Africa? Let us know in the comments section, please send us an email here.


Hyundai NEXO

Hyundai NEXO runs on hydrogen.

Reducing emissions, but not with electric cars

Electric vehicles powered by a hybrid solution or dedicated rechargeable battery cells are already available as a lower-pollution alternative. Still, another option on the horizon could change how we move around and how our transport affects the environment.

Vehicles powered by hydrogen cells could dramatically reduce our carbon footprints, with hydrogen having the potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to managing climate change.

There are already a few hydrogen-powered vehicles in production and on the roads in a few international markets, such as the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo; but, closer to home, Sasol and Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) announced, earlier this year, a partnership to explore the possibilities of developing a green hydrogen ecosystem in South Africa.

Hyundai NEXO

Hyundai NEXO filling up with hydrogen.

Hydrogen can unlock economic opportunities for SA

It’s the establishment of that nationwide hydrogen ecosystem that holds such exciting potential for South African road users and the country’s whole economy. There are, however, several obstacles to using hydrogen-powered cars, including that we don’t have a network of hydrogen ‘fuel’ stations or the infrastructure to harvest and transport hydrogen. Hydrogen could present multiple economic opportunities for South Africa, attracting investment to make these possible.

While South Africa doesn’t have the target for zero internal combustion engines on the roads by 2030 that many in Europe do (yet), it does have access to resources that many of those countries don’t. These resources include abundant ocean water, from which hydrogen could be harvested and found along a long coastline that benefits from significant sunshine and wind.

Toyota Mirai

Toyota Mirai

Why hydrogen should be considered as an alternative in South Africa

Why is this important? The hydrogen harvesting process uses a significant amount of energy – and our country is perfectly positioned to build hydrogen production plants that use these renewable resources. This has been made even more appealing by the Department of Minerals and Energy’s recent raising of the independent power producer limit to 100MW.

Once the country has its own hydrogen production facilities providing its product for export to the global hydrogen vehicle industry, it could be more plausible for South Africa to set up the infrastructure required to support hydrogen vehicles. What’s more, once the fuel source is available, our significant network of vehicle manufacturing plants will find value in adapting their factories to produce hydrogen-powered vehicles too.

Toyota Mirai

Toyota Mirai

By calling in the help of global experts, combined with local knowledge and experience, already experienced in the complexities of hydrogen harvesting, along with the expertise of mobility and transport specialists, the country’s economy and job creation stats could benefit from a significant boost – with the help of a readily accessible resource, and some big sky thinking.

Ivan Reutener is the Smart Mobility and Intelligent Transport Systems Specialist at Royal HaskoningDHV.

Disclaimer: Wheels24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of contributors/columnists published on Wheels24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24 or Wheels24.


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