© Fraunhofer IEE | LIAG

HyAfrica inves­ti­gates nat­ur­al hydro­gen in Africa as an alter­na­tive ener­gy source

The HyAfrica project is con­cerned with explor­ing deposits of nat­ur­al hydro­gen in sev­er­al African coun­tries to pro­vide alter­na­tive ener­gy for local areas. The long-term joint research and inno­va­tion part­ner­ship between the Euro­pean Union and the African Union in the field of renew­able ener­gy (LEAP-RE) is fund­ing the project with a bud­get of almost one mil­lion euros. HyAfrica is the first inter­na­tion­al research project to explore the poten­tial of nat­ur­al hydro­gen as a new ener­gy source.

HyAfrica stands for “Towards a next-gen­er­a­tion renew­able ener­gy source — a nat­ur­al hydro­gen solu­tion for pow­er sup­ply in Africa”. The project will explore the fea­si­bil­i­ty of using hydro­gen found in cer­tain geo­log­i­cal envi­ron­ments in Africa to gen­er­ate elec­tric­i­ty in stand-alone and off-grid sys­tems for rur­al and iso­lat­ed communities.

The project con­sor­tium, coor­di­nat­ed by the Por­tuguese SME Con­verge! a spin-off of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Évo­ra, con­sists of the Leib­niz Insti­tute for Applied Geo­physics (LIAG), the Fraun­hofer Insti­tute for Ener­gy Eco­nom­ics and Ener­gy Sys­tem Tech­nol­o­gy IEE, the Uni­ver­si­ty Mohammed Pre­mier in Moroc­co, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lomé in Togo, the Uni­ver­si­ties of Limpopo and Pre­to­ria in South Africa, as well as the Uni­ver­si­ty Eduar­do Mond­lane and the Nation­al Direc­torate of Geol­o­gy and Min­ing in Mozam­bique. The kick-off meet­ing of the part­ner orga­ni­za­tions in mid-Sep­tem­ber in Ben Sli­mane, Moroc­co, marked the begin­ning of the coop­er­a­tion. The HyAfrica project is designed to run for three years.

White hydro­gen as a regen­er­a­tive ener­gy source
Nat­ur­al hydro­gen — also called white hydro­gen — is a pri­ma­ry and clean ener­gy source that is con­tin­u­ous­ly gen­er­at­ed by geo­chem­i­cal reac­tions in geo­log­i­cal for­ma­tions. How­ev­er, the meth­ods for the explo­ration and use of nat­ur­al hydro­gen are poor­ly defined, and there are few reg­u­la­to­ry mea­sures for this in the coun­tries where the project is being car­ried out.

HyAfrica aims to inves­ti­gate the poten­tial use of nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring hydro­gen in the local ener­gy sys­tem of the respec­tive regions in Moroc­co, Mozam­bique, South Africa and Togo and to assess the socio-eco­nom­ic impact for the local com­mu­ni­ties. The project aims to exploit hydro­gen gas found in geo­log­i­cal for­ma­tions and use it as a pri­ma­ry ener­gy source. This con­tin­u­ous­ly renew­able resource has the poten­tial to be a low-cost, cli­mate-friend­ly sup­ple­ment to hydro­gen pro­duc­tion with­out the inef­fi­cien­cies and accom­pa­ny­ing impacts on land use, water con­sump­tion, and feed­stock sup­ply asso­ci­at­ed with indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion of blue and green hydrogen.

Broad hydro­gen exper­tise on poten­tials and technologies
In the work pack­age “Geo­phys­i­cal Char­ac­ter­i­za­tion”, the LIAG deals with the inter­pre­ta­tion of geo­phys­i­cal data and espe­cial­ly gravi­met­ric and mag­net­ic anom­alies. “With our geo­phys­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tions, we want to bet­ter under­stand which geo­log­i­cal con­di­tions favor the occur­rence of nat­ur­al hydro­gen deposits,” explains Prof. Dr. Ger­ald Gabriel, LIAG project leader. The tech­ni­cal and capac­i­ty-build­ing skills for geo­phys­i­cal tech­niques are required for under­stand­ing and design­ing renew­able H2 resources.

Fraun­hofer IEE will con­tribute its exper­tise in the tech­no-eco­nom­ic areas, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of busi­ness mod­els and impact assess­ment of ener­gy tech­nolo­gies. Hydro­gen tech­nolo­gies and elec­tri­cal ener­gy stor­age are strate­gic busi­ness areas of the insti­tute. In addi­tion, Fraun­hofer IEE has exten­sive expe­ri­ence in the plan­ning and use of hydro­gen at the Euro­pean lev­el and has already suc­cess­ful­ly con­duct­ed research on renew­able ener­gies in African countries.

The goal of the work pack­age coor­di­nat­ed by Fraun­hofer IEE is to explore two local ener­gy sys­tems to eval­u­ate the poten­tial of nat­ur­al hydro­gen in stand­alone and off­grid ener­gy sys­tems using select­ed busi­ness mod­els in remote or small communities.

“Togeth­er with the local teams and uni­ver­si­ties, we will inves­ti­gate whether this nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring hydro­gen is poten­tial­ly eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable for the local pop­u­la­tion,” says project man­ag­er Dr. Maike Bud­den­siek from Fraun­hofer IEE. “What’s spe­cial about this is that socio- and tech­no-eco­nom­ic aspects will be eval­u­at­ed in equal mea­sure.” The socio-eco­nom­ic effects are being inves­ti­gat­ed under the assump­tion that the use of hydro­gen in local ener­gy sys­tems will become estab­lished, also with regard to the busi­ness mod­els under inves­ti­ga­tion. For this pur­pose, the nec­es­sary data will be joint­ly col­lect­ed, ana­lyzed and method­olog­i­cal approach­es adapt­ed for each region will be provided.