Africa’s latest natural resource boom is hydrogen

Analysis in brief: A clean energy source that is widely available in Africa, hydrogen may be the solution to not only the continent’s but the world’s energy needs, as well as being a sustained form of employment and poverty-ending revenues.

Hydrogen is an abundant and naturally occurring gas found in water and fossil fuels, which makes the element particularly energy-rich. By separating it from water and coal or other fossil fuels, hydrogen can be used as a fuel on its own. The separation process can be done with renewable energies like solar or wind power, creating a product that is known as ‘green hydrogen.’ What is left over from the separation process is merely water, making hydrogen the least-damaging fuel environmentally. Unlike other fuels, hydrogen does not warm the atmosphere when it is used. What is required for a successful hydrogen industry is not only the base product from which it is extracted but also abundant solar and wind energy to power the separation. Africa has both requirements.

All indicators show resources and remarkable green energy promise

The results of surveys of Africa’s hydrogen potential read almost like fantasies. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) ‘Africa Energy Outlook 2022’ report, expansion of Africa’s solar and wind production capacity could make the continent a global hub for producing hydrogen. “Africa could produce 5,000 megatonnes of hydrogen a year, equivalent to global total energy supply today,” the IEA says. The regional hubs for green hydrogen production specifically would be Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Southern Africa, where solar and wind energy production have the greatest potential.

A clean-burning fuel would reduce Africa’s carbon emissions by 40% by eliminating 500 million tonnes of CO2 a year from African skies. Africa’s hydrogen exports would also assist the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and thus combat global warming that is negatively impacting African environments.

“Africa has the best solar energy in the world. Transforming solar power into green hydrogen can strengthen energy security, cut emissions and pollution and decarbonise industry and transport,” reports the European Investment Bank, which partners with investors to unleash Africa’s hydrocarbon potential and reduce production costs. In terms of economic viability, production would have to achieve a cost of US$2.17 per kilo of hydrogen. Some experts in solar technologies are forecasting that solar power will reduce energy costs and lower hydrogen production below the threshold of US$2 per kg by 2030.

The world’s green hydrogen production potential shows the clear leading viability of Africa
Image courtesy: International Energy Agency

Requirements to unleash the hydrogen revolution

An investment of US$1.09 trillion in green hydrogen investment would reap energy that would meet more than one-third of Africa’s current energy consumption. Ancillary benefits include boosting GDP, creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs, improving water supplies, making water secure areas particularly in Northern Africa and empowering communities by freeing them of power and water shortages. That investment must be in clean energy capacity as well as hydrogen manufacturing, because while Africa has nearly two-thirds of the world’s solar resources most favourable to solar energy production, the continent generates only 1% of the world’s solar power. By 2030, Africa could produce 80% of the new power generation it needs from geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind and other renewable energies, the IEA says, allowing hydrogen to be exported abroad. With clean energy production online, Africa could produce hydrogen at half the world price. Accordingly, reports the IEA, Africa could supply 25 million tonnes of green hydrogen to global energy markets, equivalent to 15% of current natural gas used in the European Union.

However, the IEA cautions, this will only happen if investment is made in clean energies now. With these, the currently uncompetitive cost of hydrogen against other forms of energy is expected to drastically diminish. Investment will only be enabled if governments become pro-active partners with industry, creating hydrogen policies and regulations, as well as giving incentives for investment in the sector. Pilot projects will be required to show the viability of hydrogen production, the way small-scale solar arrays of twenty years ago showed the feasibility of the massive solar arrays of today. Pan-African co-operation is also required to share best practices. It is encouraging to note that pilot projects are already being undertaken, and green hydrogen initiatives are underway in Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia and South Africa.

The ZeroWaste Progressive Green Hydrogen Project in Egypt shows the link between solar power and
hydrogen production
Image courtesy: Africa Energy Portal


Serious political will is required to venture into this new endeavour, no matter how promising the economic potential of green hydrogen is. Throughout Africa, the scramble is still on for fossil fuels because the world’s energy use is founded on these polluting energies. No new investment is required for fossil fuels beyond exploration, and easy money awaits the simple extraction of these resources. It is interesting that the countries that will become tomorrow’s hydrogen kings currently are not fossil fuel exporters, while those countries enjoying the easy money of fossil fuel extraction today are often not suited for hydrogen production. If, as energy experts predict, cheap and clean green hydrogen will replace fossil fuels, then it would be advisable for Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Mozambique, Nigeria and other fossil fuel producers to pre-emptively diversify their economies.

The critical points:

  • Africa is the world’s most ideal location for green hydrogen production
  • Environmentally friendly green hydrogen can meet Africa’s energy needs and assist in the global battle against climate change, lifting African economies and work forces in the process
  • Investment in solar and wind energy production that are essential to green hydrogen production are necessary to lower costs and make green hydrogen competitive, which energy experts say is inevitable