South Africa is minerally positioned to lead the world in green hydrogen energy generation

Published On: 29 July 2022|

South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s reserves of platinum group metals (PGMs) that play a critical role in green hydrogen power generation. Given that Japan is in the forefront of hydrogen and fuel cell technology, and that South Africa’s policy stance favours a de-carbonised society, the South African-Japanese Universities (SAJU) Forum presents a strategic opportunity to render hydrogen power generation a reality in South Africa.

At the official opening of the virtual two-day SAJU 5 conference, yesterday, the views of South Africa’s Ambassador to Japan and Japan’s Ambassador to South Africa, converged on the sentiment expressed above. The event, which is the fifth SAJU Forum conference since this platform was incepted in 2007, has attracted up to 260 scholars from South Africa’s and Japanese universities to exchange on-going research and ideas for future research projects.

mr smuts

His Excellency, Mr Smuts Ngonyama (above), South Africa’s Ambassador to Japan, said even though South Africa needed more training and funding to develop the green hydrogen economy — and more research must be undertaken on the green hydrogen value chain, he saw the participation of experienced Japanese industry players in academia-industry collaboration as being important for sharing best practices.  “The involvement of the private sector, and employers, is critical for creating opportunities for internships and on-the-job training for our youth.”

Mr Ngonyama’s counterpart, His Excellency Ambassador Norio Maruyama (left), Japan’s Ambassador to South Africa, concurred, confirming that bilateral “discussions toward a decarbonized society have become particularly important in recent years, especially cooperation in the field of hydrogen.” He said a partnership in this regard would further strengthen Japanese-South African relationship, well into the future.

Ambassador Maruyama reiterated that South Africa, bestowed with the requisite minerals, “has big potential to become a world centre of hydrogen supply and an indispensable part of the international supply chain of hydrogen.” He said Japanese companies were paying close attention to this potential, for which reason “I would like to promote the cooperation between Japan and South Africa toward a Carbon Neutral Society,” the Ambassador said.

Projects already underway

To that end, Ambassador Maruyama mentioned two SATREPS (Science and Technology Research Partnerships for Sustainable Development) projects currently underway: one on the “Development of a carbon recycling system toward a de-carbonized society” and the other on the “Development of new Ammonia Synthesis system using renewable energy and hydrogen”. He said both were extremely important in paving the way toward a carbon neutral society by 2050.

Ambassador Ngonyama also cited the South African government’s partnership with Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) as being relevant. He said this project, the brainchild of the Department of Science and Innovation, would allow South Africa to commercialise the technology and export it to countries with limited renewable energy resources.

South Africa an important Science and Technology partner in Africa

Ambassador Maruyama acknowledged South Africa as one of two countries on the African continent counted among the 47 countries and organisations with which Japan had concluded 32 science and technology cooperation agreements. That, he said, made South Africa “a key country in the African region with which to cooperate in science and technology.”

In addition to the above, numerous cooperative frameworks were in place, allowing Japanese and South African scientists to collaborate in research. These were:

  • The Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS),
  • The Africa-Japan Collaborative Research (AJ-CORE) Programme,
  • The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Bilateral Programmes,
  • SAKURA Science Exchange Programme,
  • , and
  • The African Business Education (ABE) Initiative.

On the milestones realised to date, Ambassador Maruyama said since the MEXT scholarship was started in 1993, over 100 South African students had been sponsored to study in Japan. Under the ABE Initiative, started in 2014 for South Africa, 130 South African students had studied in Japan, including 14 students still in Japan, currently.

“In this context, we do hope that the 5th SAJU will promote more academic exchanges and collaboration between Japanese and South African universities, which include joint research, student and researcher’s exchanges, and joint supervision of students.”

Open Collaboration and Innovation with Trust

In his introductory remarks earlier, Professor Takahiro Morio (left) from the University of Tsukuba (a member of the SAJU 5 Organising Committee alongside five other entities), had said that internet explosion in recent years had seen the proliferation of false information and extreme ideas with no scientific basis. He said this had created divisions and distrust amongst people, and “a distrust of science, of democracy” and other institutions, exacerbated by people’s isolation due to the CoVid-19 pandemic.

“Under these circumstances, we, in academia and related sectors, must once again rebuild and continue open and innovative collaboration based on mutual trust, which is why we have set this theme. We would be grateful for your understanding and support.”

Ambassador Ngonyama echoed that this theme, addressing ethical issues in science, was highly appropriate.  “Insufficient attention to ethics and integrity in science can lead to distrust. At the height of the pandemic, because of distrust, some went to the extent of cutting funding to the World Health Organisation. This caused untold suffering for many in the south and in Africa, in particular.

“Today, the world is experiencing multiple overlapping crises and challenges. Universities, and academic networks, must remain spaces for critical intellectual engagement to respond in a consistent manner to all global challenges…  It is, thus, important for us to devise and develop appropriate mechanisms to improve the collaboration, map out the necessary interventions for the future, and explore additional areas of engagement.”

Professor Ahmed Bawa (left), CEO of Universities South Africa, which is part of the SAJU Forum Organising Committee, said the Forum had had a two-year hiatus since SAJU 4 in 2019. “The Forum provides a wonderful opportunity to build collegiality between our two nations – thanks to the Chairs of our respective universities’ co-ordinating bodies.”

He said problems faced by humanity are both local and global, necessitating that “we collaborate to address our grand challenges, together, especially at a time when global geopolitics are pulling our scientists apart.” Professor Bawa said he saw TICAD 8 (the Tokyo International Conference on African Development coming up in Tunisia in August) providing a platform to address these grand challenges. “Again, SAJU 5 will feed well into that event.”

Tribute to the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Ambassador Ngonyama lamented that SAJU 5 was taking place “today, in the aftermath of the senseless death of former Prime Minister Shinzo ABE, who worked tirelessly during his time in Office to enhance relations between Japan and South Africa in especially the areas of education, science and innovation.” Mr Abe was Japan’s 98th Prime Minister who was assassinated on 8 July. “His legacy will forever remain in the work we do through SAJU,” Mr Ngonyama said.

Applause to Professor Tshilidzi Marwala

He also congratulated the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, on his appointment, on 25 July 2022, as Rector of the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo. “This is a major accomplishment for Prof Marwala, and South Africa is indeed proud of him. We will, indeed, be honoured to welcome him in our midst, when he takes up his position on 1 March 2023 here in Tokyo.”

Looking ahead

Ambassador Maruyama said he looked forward to the opening, in August, of the Stellenbosch University Japan Centre. “I am certain that this Centre will enhance understanding and knowledge about Japan in South Africa and promote research and teaching collaboration in all fields of studies, through networks such as SAJU.

“I also expect the Centre to encourage interaction between academia and the business sector between our two countries and on the African continent.”

He said while he could not decide when and where the next SAJU would be held, he mentioned that 2025 would be an interesting year to hold SAJU 6 in Japan, due to the upcoming Osaka Expo 2025, which would be hosted in Japan under the theme Designing Future Society for Our Lives. “It will be a place where the world’s knowledge, such as cutting-edge technology, will be brought together to help resolve global issues. We expect active participation of South Africa.”

He added that 2025 could be the year of the next TICAD held every third year.

On that note, he wished the delegates fruitful discussions during SAJU 5.

Ambassador Ngonyama, in turn, expressed gratitude to the Organising Committee, especially the University of Tsukuba, the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Universities South Africa (USAf) and the colleagues at South Africa’s Embassy in Japan for their role in coordinating the work of the Forum. “I am told that there is significant interest the deliberations, as evidenced by the large number of registered participants.”

This morning, the conference will dedicate four panel discussions to a) Technologies of (dis)Trust and Transformation: South African and Japanese students’ experiences of exchange and change through a pandemic in the era of misinformation; b) Research funding mechanisms; c) Cooperation beyond academia and d) Platforms for academic networking.

Up to 260 delegates are registered to attend the virtual SAJU Forum 5 conference that continues, and winds up, today.

‘Mateboho Green is Universities South Africa’s Manager: Corporate Communication.