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Hydrogen truck powers miners towards a greener future

South Africa’s mining industry took a big step forwards toward a carbon-free future last Friday when Anglo American unveiled the world’s largest hydrogen-powered truck, in what President Cyril Ramaphosa described as a “historic moment” for the future economy.

The fully hydrogen-powered 220-tonne truck is intended to be the first of a fleet of similar vehicles that Anglo American hopes will help it reach the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040. The truck uses solar panels to provide the energy required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. This process has the potential, says the mining giant, to remove up to 80% of all carbon emissions that are currently created through its existing global fleet of diesel-powered trucks.

At its unveiling at the Mogalakwena mine, about 250km outside of Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said: “This is a gigantic leap for South Africa’s hydrogen future economy.” 

Hydrogen has often been labelled the fuel of the future, thanks to its abundance in nature and its clean-burning nature that emits only water vapour. Investment bank Investec believes that there is huge potential for investment in the green hydrogen sector particularly- the cleanest form of hydrogen energy. In an investment note it argued that South Africa was well-endowed with renewable sources of energy, and was poised to become a leader in this field. 

As Ramaphosa noted: “What we are launching is not merely an impressive piece of machinery, it is the genesis of an entire ecosystem powered by hydrogen.”

Much more must be done to mitigate pollution in the country’s large industrial sector, particularly in the mining industry. But this is a good move and, alongside last November’s pledge from the UK, France, Germany, and the United States to offer $8.5 billion (R136.13 billion) in technical assistance to help South Africa move towards a low-carbon economy, sets us on the right path.

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