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U of Pretoria researchers leading study on geologic hydrogen in S Africa

Scientists at the University of Pretoria (UP) are leading a study of natural hydrogen gas discovered under the Earth’s surface in Mpumalanga (geologic hydrogen)—a potential source of renewable energy that could contribute to the national energy budget and help address the energy shortage in South Africa.

Mpumalanga is a province in northeastern South Africa, bordering the nations of Swaziland and Mozambique. It embraces the southern half of Kruger National Park, a huge nature reserve with abundant wildlife.

While it is still too early to know how much of an effect the discovery could have on the country’s national energy landscape if exploited, the scientists have envisaged small stand-alone generation units (powering generators with a capacity of about 20 kW) for local domestic or minor industrial use. However, recent stories in Europe suggest that some geologic hydrogen resources might be much bigger than originally thought. (Earlier post.)


Source: University of Pretoria

Structural geologist Professor Adam Bumby said that the team is in the process of identifying potential source sites, after which it will be able to quantify estimated resources.

The role of this project is to indicate the presence of hydrogen, and how it could be incorporated into the national energy budget if it were to be exploited.

—Professor Adam Bumby

This discovery was made as part of the HyAfrica project undertaken by a consortium of partners within the European Union (EU) and African Union (AU). The overall objective of HyAfrica is to assess the resources of natural hydrogen in promising regions of Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa and Togo and to evaluate its social-economic impact. The project will create strategies for the exploitation of the hydrogen source, and allow institutions in the identified countries to develop roadmaps and action plans, and include hydrogen in their energy systems.

Recent samples taken in Mpumalanga currently fall under the natural (“white”) hydrogen category. Follow-up field trips and isotopic comparisons of all the hydrogen samples collected will provide a clearer understanding of the geological controls responsible for generating hydrogen in Mpumalanga. According to Prof Bumby, it is difficult to estimate at this point how long it will take to properly exploit any decent reserves of hydrogen.

The project was tasked with looking for sources of natural hydrogen in Africa, and exploring the possibility of using natural hydrogen for stand-alone renewable energy solutions. The partners fall under the umbrella of LEAP-RE (Long-term Joint EU-AU Research and Innovation Partnership on Renewable Energy). The AU partners are in Morocco, Togo, South Africa and Mozambique.

The South African scientific partners in the HyAfrica consortium are Prof Bumby and Dr Ansie Smit of UP’s Department of Geology, Prof David Walwyn of the UP Graduate School of Technology Management (GSTM), along with Samson Masango and Prof Napoleon Hammond of the University of Limpopo. Other consortium partners are the Université Mohammed Premier, Oujda (Morocco); University of Lomé (Togo); Eduardo Mondlane University (Mozambique); Converge!/University of Évora (Portugal); the Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics (Germany); and the Fraunhofer Institute (Germany). The South African investigations are funded through the South African National Energy Development Institute.



A bit of a moral conundrum. Africa may be the only viable proving ground for investigating, testing, and early exploitation of geologic hydrogen due to cheap labor, loose environmental standards, and limited regulations on ownership and land control.


Hi Jer:

The process is pretty similar to sinking an NG well and labour is going to be minimal.

For the hydrogen itself, it would seem to present less pollution issues than even NG, let alone coal and stuff, although of course there might be other gases in the ground, including hopefully helium, which is in short supply and valuable.

Permitting as opposed simply to environmental hazards are likely to cause considerable delay in Europe at least though, so it seems likely to me that you are correct in where the first production will take place, if indeed it turns out to be a resource worth exploiting.


Swaziland no longer exists - the name was changed to Eswatini in 2018


Here is an article in French on efforts there to achieve faster permitting for natural hydrogen, at least in comparicon with Spain, where it is pretty much stuck:

They point out that it is way easier to use hydrogen locally, as that avoids the whole difficult issue of transporting hydrogen.
Some of the areas in France where natural hydrogen may be a substantial resource such as Lorraine are bang on top of where there would be substantial local demand, so perhaps the advantages of areas in Africa where permitting is likely to be easier are not as great as they appear at first blush.

If practicable as the article outlines then not only would natural hydrogen be very cheap, but consequent pollution is very low, not to mention GHG.


possibility of using natural hydrogen for stand-alone renewable energy solutions.
As far as I know natural hydrogen is not renewable it's cleaner but it doesn't restore itself.



The processes which result in hydrogen being about as a resource seem in to result in the hydrogen renewing, but what is not clear at the moment is which of them and whether they will result in a continuously exploitable resource, or whether the rates are two slow, or the geology will trap it.

Here is a link which look at some of the processes, and possibilities.

But they are certainly that, rather than in the bag!
So far it has cleared all the hurdles, and lets not forget that as recently as a year or so ago I had to write in to correct the BBC, who were claiming that there is no such thing as natural hydrogen!

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