Blondie Mahlangu’s entrepreneurial journey started at an early age. Photo: Supplied
Blondie Mahlangu’s entrepreneurial journey started at an early age. Photo: Supplied

SA woman changes face of energy sector

By Amanda Maliba Time of article published Nov 8, 2021

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The face of pink hydrogen in South Africa is a woman, and her name is Blondie Mahlangu. She is the strategic partner at Pink H2.

Blondie Mahlangu’s entrepreneurial journey started at an early age. Photo: Supplied

The young entrepreneur who hails from Daveyton, Ekurhuleni, is the first woman to bring the pink hydrogen renewable energy technology to the country and will be the lead of what she hopes will shake up the local energy generation sector.

Although she admits to not being the first to entirely work in the hydrogen sector, with many women playing in that space for years, she is however the first to lead this type of operation on home soil.

With the growing interest in hydrogen as a more clean energy alternative globally, Mahlangu’s role as the strategic partner will be to help further unlock South Africa’s hydrogen potential.

Hydrogen, simply put, is an active form of energy or power generation.

Mahlangu and her team's mandate is an energy saving drive that will help secure energy for South Africa first, among the many issues, before starting conversations of applications for mines, the transport sector, etc.

Pink hydrogen technology is the first of its kind, with no other offering globally, and is said to just rely on the use of water while green hydrogen relies on gas and blue, brown and grey variations rely on fossil fuel.

“You can’t really say it is clean energy when you still need fuel to power up or to produce hydrogen. Our technology breaks the water down into components and then you get pink hydrogen.”

Mahlangu comes from a technical work background in the oil, gas and construction space, and although she initially wanted to form part of the technical wing of the project, being appointed as the strategic partner has been a huge pat on the back.

“This is a life-changing opportunity and so surreal. I pinch myself every day because as a woman who has been in this space for too long, fighting for my place at the dinner table and being pushed out, sidelined and having to deal with gatekeepers all the time, it becomes so surreal when you form part of something so big, something that is global, that is not only about Africa, being given the responsibility to co-ordinate it is a lifetime achievement,” she said.

“The biggest thing for us right now is energy security. Pink hydrogen is an alternative form of energy or power generation. Pink has different applications. You can use pink for vehicles but our main thing right now, and the reason why we decided to start with this project, is for power security.

“With load-shedding looming grimly over us pink is one of the many energy applications that can solve this problem now,” she said, stating that theirs is very different from the green hydrogen application.

The project is set on a 25-year development plan, and aims to expand to other parts of the continent in due course.

“Pink is ready. Pink can be installed in two years’ time, it can be piloted in two years’ time unlike green energy that is still at its feasibility level and could potentially take up to 10 years.

“In pink hydrogen, we want to resolve the energy crisis quicker, the municipality (undisclosed) has been losing a lot of power through transmission but through our technology, the council is able to save up to 32% of those costs, which can be used towards service delivery programmes.

“It's not about us getting into the economy to make money, but solving the current energy crisis that we have as a country. Our programmes are effective but will take long before we actually realise the effectiveness or try to get into that space (fully) where we have the power in abundance.

“Right now as I speak to you, we are planning to approach Eskom because we know that they are shutting down power stations in Mpumalanga. Number one, this is shutting down infrastructure that is there and that can be used, so our involvement there is to save the jobs that are there currently, and secondly we don’t need additional money to set up the technology.

“Eskom can use that existing infrastructure - we just integrate that with our technology, keep the existing employees and just upskill them to become hydrogen efficient and ready to work. So that is what we are trying to do at the moment,” she said.

Mahlangu's entrepreneurship background dates as far back as high school, when she needed to make extra pocket money that would help her access additional things that she needed, understanding her family situation of surviving on a stringent budget.

She started off by selling oranges during school hours before progressing to ice-cream and other goodies at home after school.

“I worked in a few companies, in different sectors, but the entrepreneurship bug was always there. I then decided to start something (a business) but failed, three times to be exact. These are companies that never even took off but it was those companies that started off this journey for me. I am not where I want to be but the lessons from those failures have propelled me to where I am now, here. As the first black woman leading such a revolutionary project. It is just amazing,” she said.

She is not only proud of herself but believes this is a clear indication that it is time for women to occupy more spaces.

“More importantly, to showcase the possibilities for other women who are still doubting if they should venture into the energy space. I want to be that first one to say to them that you can do it. I am here now and I am here to make sure that we see as many women in this space as we possibly can.

“Because right now we are still dealing with (male) dominance. In a room full of 50 people, you’ll find two women who are in the energy space. There are conversations that are happening about gender mainstreaming, but they are still slow. We need corporations to understand that the agenda is not just for the government but we need them also to participate in order for the transformation to happen,” she said.

Sunday Independent

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