Words by Steve Pike.
Algae could be the magic crop for a drought stricken world. an algae plant in action. Image sourced from ,Grist.
A startup called SeaH4 holds an ace up its sleeve that could kickstart a surge in alternative commercial ventures that end unsustainable mining on the West Coast.
The concept, as co-founder of SeaH4 Johannes Bochdalofsky says, is simple. They plan to produce biofuels from marine seaweed at various points along the West Coast that pioneers ways of producing carbon neutral alternatives to fossil fuel. However, this would “enable full and continued use of the existing fossil fuel infrastructure that are protected from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levies, taxes and penalties”.
As Johannes points out, this is no pipe dream. Already big players in the South African and global economy are sitting up and taking notice of the potential of SeaH4 to assist South Africa’s just transition. Bochdalofsky is thinking big with his goals, which will be realised using well established technologies: farming, biogas production, and gas processing, with Saldanha Bay earmarked for the first test plant.
SeaH4 offers a sustainable alternative to extractive mining and the damages it brings, with the real promise of creating thousands of jobs, something mining has not managed to do, despite the promises. SeaH4’s solution would even offer a symbiosis with the mining sector, using their remediation funds to turn exploited beach mining areas into carbon-removing, job-generating economic hubs.
Heavy Mineral Sand mining on a a beach up the West Coast of South Africa. Image – Anonymous.
Once funding for construction was secured, the test plant at Saldanha could be in production as early as 2027, providing between 700 and 1,000 jobs for the local community, and many more should production lead to more sites being built.
Bochdalofsky is excited about the prospects for continent-wide benefits, not just for South Africa. He notes that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – through the GreenVoyage2050 project – and the South African Department of Transport, who “have selected us as one of two national pilot projects to facilitate the decarbonisation of shipping and allowing SA to reach its decarbonisation commitments towards the IMO”.
And they have been given an endorsement by Wesgro, the Tourism, Investment and Trade Promotion Agency for the Western Cape. Wesgro sees SeaH4 as a key to boosting Wesgro’s mandate by the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town to attract foreign direct investment into the province, support local business, and promote regional exports into international markets.
SeaH4 Sustainable Biofuels supports the Sustainable UN Development Goals. Image sourced from ,,SEAH4.
According to the endorsement, the impact of SeaH4 technology includes a 40,000 ton reduction of C02 emissions (for a single plant) relative to the burning of diesel. SeaH4 would also “provide sustainable jobs to impoverished communities, who otherwise have turned to poaching of marine resources, as well as enable a range of related industries through byproducts of the manufacturing process”.
Wesgro said it was engaging with SeaH4 to help them access relevant investments and programmes. One example was the Green Energy Africa Summit Investor Pitch event hosted by Freeport Saldanha in collaboration with Wesgro.
SeaH4 was one of the ten shortlisted companies to pitch at the event. Wesgro would continue to provide SeaH4 with funding and regulatory assistance required during the implementation of its projects.
While the big guns and large climate change funders are showing interest, Bochdalofsky said SeaH4 still required around 10 to 12 million rand to build their test farm at Saldanha “and avoid our team getting poached. Everyone has been contributing to this project from their own funds!”
“Once the test-farm is running, we have significant interest from the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA), the World Bank, the ADB as well as private capital, both local and more significantly from out of the country,” he said.
On top of this, Bochdalofsky says: “we are fighting a hard fight to keep our HQ in South Africa and any potential patents or other considerable elements of our Intellectual Property, which shows just how much belief we have in this country and its communities.”
“We are working hard to use our solution to lengthen the green hydrogen value chain, so that Africa avoids exporting pure hydrogen and once more being exploited for the lowest value commodity within the value chain,” he said.
SeaH4 had established a good working relationship with the Freeport of Saldanha, and an area for the first SeaH4 plant has been earmarked.
CEO of Protect the West Coast Mike Schlebach is also excited about the potential of SeaH4 to make a substantial change to the way the West Coast is perceived.
“PTWC is very excited about the opportunity that algae farming represents and we believe that it is initiatives like this that are the future of the West Coast. When you consider that these modern industries are non-extractive, circular and can provide thousands of West Coast locals with meaningful, long term jobs and opportunities without trashing the place, well then it’s a no brainer in my books.”
“It is time for the SA government to see these new and exciting industries for what they are: a saviour for the West Coast economy, and a tool to create things we need, while protecting the planet on which we live,” Schlebach said.