Towards green hydrogen: realizing the maritime opportunity for South Africa


South Africa is already pressing ahead on the path to developing green hydrogen, having earlier this year updated its Hydrogen Society Roadmap, which aims to bring about a carbon neutral society that is economically inclusive and environmentally stable. For industries where electrification isn’t possible (e.g. steel production, shipping, aviation, chemicals, and cement) the development of green hydrogen will be essential to ensuring that these industries are sustainable and can continue to contribute to the South African economy for years to come.

Maritime decarbonization: full steam ahead

Following on from the World Maritime Parallel Event in Durban, which took place from the 12th -14th of October 2022, it is becoming increasingly clear that international shipping represents an attractive, growing opportunity for South Africa to support these developments through providing strong future demand for green hydrogen. This could allow South Africa to secure several benefits, providing a means to ultimately export energy resources, drive national decarbonization, create jobs, attract investment, and improve public health.

Currently, international shipping uses around 300 million tons of fossil fuels every year, representing around 5% of global oil production. Over the coming decades, transitioning these energy sources to fuels based on green hydrogen, such as ammonia and methanol, will mean that the maritime industry will increasingly drive a high level of demand for these future sustainable fuels.


South Africa is a country that is well placed to become a key player in the production of green fuels for the maritime industry. Situated along busy international shipping routes, South Africa has the highest maritime traffic in Africa outside the Mediterranean, an extensive internationally connected port system, strong access to renewable resources, and a developed industrial base that could help to aggregate demand for green hydrogen nationally across multiple sectors.

Assuming that 5% of the global fleet transitions to Scalable Zero Emission Fuels (SZEF) by 2030, which will be necessary to put international shipping on track to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the green energy demand for vessels in South Africa would represent about 3.8 TWh/y (equivalent to 114kt hydrogen per year, a third of Japan’s planned import volume of hydrogen in 2030). Conservative calculations show that this accounts for only 0.2% of South Africa’s total renewable potential. This means that supplying international shipping will not compete with domestic energy needs, whilst also providing significant scope to increase this supply over time. By contrast, supporting large-scale investment into renewable electricity capacity will further allow for excess renewable electricity to contribute to energy security, reduce load shedding and accelerate decarbonization of the grid, in addition to driving down costs of new renewables installations through economies of scale and competition.

Being part of the transition for shipping would allow South Africa to engage in, for example, green fuel production, exports, and bunkering; support a just and equitable job transition and create green hubs and green ports. In addition, South Africa is extremely well placed to launch Africa’s first green corridor (a specific trade route between major port hubs where zero-emission solutions are demonstrated and supported) which could help scale up the infrastructure and business models necessary to unlock these future opportunities.

By entering this space, South Africa could leverage trends in international shipping to secure progress on several other national ambitions:

Decarbonize national industry

Maritime decarbonization could create opportunities for synergies with other sectors, aggregating demand for green hydrogen across sectors like mining and agriculture.

Job creation

South Africa could leverage maritime decarbonization to boost job creation, addressing the need to transition away from coal-based employment, develop skills locally and support a just transition.

Public health

Transitioning to clean forms of energy would significantly reduce the impacts of maritime emissions on local communities, particular in coastal areas.

International investment

Development of SZEF infrastructure to serve South Africa’s shipping sector could attract investment up to R175 billion Rand ($11.1 billion USD) in onshore infrastructure by 2030.

The way forward

South Africa’s ability to make progress on linking its existing hydrogen ambitions to ongoing trends in maritime decarbonization has the to create a range of national opportunities. However, more work is needed to specifically address this at the national level and ensure that this becomes a reality. To accelerate this, South Africa should seek to take
the following actions:


Collaboration to secure effective GHG policy at the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

  • Unlocking investment could be enabled through effective policy at the IMO and working with other countries on the adoption of new policy, e.g. market-based measures, which could reduce the price gap between traditional and green fuels.

Align maritime policies with national climate ambition.

  • Aligning maritime policies, in both national and international settings, to the levels of national climate ambition can increase policy coherence and unlock investment.

Develop Africa’s first green corridor by:

  • Signing the Clydebank Declaration to signal its interest in international collaboration on the early adoption of green corridors.

Prepare to source or produce SZEF for bunkering, port use & export

  • Preparing to source or produce green hydrogen and ammonia can help the country realize strategic opportunities domestically and create a possible export product for trade with other countries or regions.

  • Becoming a government partner to the First Movers Coalition and joining its Infrastructure pillar of work.

The following stakeholders endorse the above messages:

  • Africa Climate Foundation – Saliem Fakir

  • Anglo American – Peter Lye

  • Cargill – Emma Skov Christensen

  • Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – Nicholas Musyoka

  • ENGIE – Jonathan Debasc

  • Global Maritime Forum/Getting to Zero Coalition – Ingrid Sidenvall Jegou

  • South African International Maritime Institute – Odwa Mtati

  • World Economic Forum/Getting to Zero Coalition – Margi Van Gogh