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New boost for platinum group metals may arise from emerging eFuel scale-up

Infinium's Robert Schuetzle interviewed by Mining Weekly's Martin Creamer. Video: Darlene Creamer.

19th April 2024

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The emerging use of electrofuel (eFuel) as an interchangeable substitute for petrol, diesel and aviation fuel has the potential to create important new demand for Southern Africa’s platinum group metals (PGMs).

This is because eFuel is a combination of green hydrogen and waste carbon dioxide (CO2) and demand for PGMs will arise when proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers are used to generate the green hydrogen. PGMs and PEMs go hand-in-glove.

Infinium founder and CEO Robert Schuetzle made mention of this in a Zoom interview with Mining Weekly and reported that one of the two electrolysers chosen for his company’s recently launched eFuels facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, is a PGM-using PEM system. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

Two electrolysis platforms were chosen by Infinium to gain procurement, commissioning, construction and now operational experience of the two platforms and their integration with eFuels.

“We’ll need massive amounts of electrolysis for our eFuels facilities, so that could be a driver for PGMs in the PEM category,” said Schuetzle.

Infinium is a technology owner and project developer with a patent portfolio approaching 200 patents globally.

The company manufactures its own proprietary catalysts in-house and has about a dozen projects at various stages of development globally, including the Roadrunner project in West Texas, and the Reuze project in Dunkirk, France, which is being developed with Engie and ArcelorMittal.

“We now have eFuels mandates in the EU as well as the UK. We know other geographies are looking at import benefits and a number of incentives around eFuels. While it's a new topic today, in the coming years, you'll see that accelerate and you'll see adoption of eFuels in customers’ decarbonisation goals accelerate.

“It’s close to a net zero carbon fuel and it doesn’t require infrastructure changes because it's not a new specification. This is a drop-in transportation fuel, which, again, makes it easier for our customers to help achieve their decarbonisation goals,” Schuetzle emhasised.

SOUTH AFRICA LINK

Interestingly, the PGM-promoting and South Africa-linked venture capital company, AP Ventures, is not only an investor in Infinium but a contributor that Schuetzle ranks as a strategic partner: “We work with them regularly on partnership opportunities, on project opportunities, on strategy.

“What I appreciate most about the AP Ventures team is their thought leadership in this industry, and the connections they're able to make,” said Schuetzle.

With its proprietary technology, Infinium eFuels include sustainable eSAF aviation fuel, which can be used in today's aircraft fleet.

An e-diesel that can be used in long-haul transport, shipping or maritime applications anywhere that diesel is used, is also produced, along with a naphtha product that is lighter than the diesel and the eSAF, and is used in petrochemical applications for the production of plastics.

“Because we use waste CO2 that would otherwise be emitted to atmosphere, these fuels, when produced, are very close to net zero carbon fuels that our customers such as Amazon and American Airlines, can use directly in their vehicle fleets to help achieve their decarbonisation goals,” Schuetzle outlined.

Mining Weekly: What is Infinium’s background?

Schuetzle: Infinium has a long history through our predecessor company that was focused on small-scale gas-to-liquids, very similar to the eFuels technology. But going back 15 years, our technology platform was focused on converting natural gas or waste gases like flare gas into fuels and chemicals. It's an area called gas-to-liquids. There are some major players that do it at very large scale, such as Shell and Sasol, but our platform operates at a very small scale due to our proprietary technology. Then, from that gas-to-liquids environment, a number of years ago we shifted to really focus on eFuels, very similar technology, but instead of using waste gases like flare gas or natural gas, we now use CO2 and green hydrogen as our inputs. This 15-year legacy we do believe gives us an advantage and commercialisation of eFuels. Infinium sits at the nexus of both a technology owner and also a project developer. Infinium has a patent portfolio that's approaching 200 patents globally. We manufacture our own proprietary catalysts in-house for our technology. Then in project development, we have about 12 projects at various stages of development globally.

What is Infinium’s role in scaling global production of eFuels?

Our customers – Amazon, American Airlines, our servicing of other customers in the aviation industry, in the chemical industry, and in on-road applications – have very aggressive decarbonisation goals. Amazon, for example, has widely talked about their net zero carbon goal by 2040. Today, they operate many trucks, many aircraft and ship stuff around the globe. So, for Infinium, getting to scale and producing these eFuels at scale is a very important milestone to help our customers to chip away at their decarbonisation goals. eFuels won't be the only solution. There's an all-of-the-above strategy, electrification, hydrogen, but we do believe eFuels will be a major part of helping our partners decarbonise and stick with their existing fleets of vehicles. That's what we focus on every day when we get up is getting to larger scale production. Corpus Christi as a start, our Roadrunner project is next, but really deploying that portfolio of over a dozen projects is very important to us in the right time, so we can help our customers to achieve their goals.

PUBLIC INVESTMENT CORPORATION

In 2018, South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and Anglo Platinum Marketing collectively committed to investing $200-million in AP Ventures Capital Funds to support AP Ventures as an investor in pioneering businesses that use the high-performance characteristics of PGMs.

Through this investment, the PIC is helping to fund technology innovation and further demand for PGMs, which will help to ensure that the South African PGM mining sector has a sustainable future as the host of the world's largest PGM resources and the mining sector's largest employer.

South Africa’s Government Employees Pension Fund contributes 90% of the funds that PIC manages.

Currently, 180 000 people are employed in South Africa’s PGM mining industry and each one of them has at least seven to ten dependants.

Minerals Council South Africa is focused on increasing the domestic demand for PEM-electrolysed green hydrogen, which it sees as contributing to the kickstarting of the hydrogen economy in South Africa.

The applications on which it is focusing are stationary as well as mobility applications of using green hydrogen within the mining industry.

In addition, South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation’s Green Hydrogen Commercialisation Strategy is focused on bringing projects to final investment decision stage.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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