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Platinum-based fuel cells key for heavy-haul industry – WPIC

4th August 2022

By: Donna Slater

Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

     

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The World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) reports that interest in using hydrogen fuel cells in the heavy-haul industry is growing rapidly, with several interesting developments currently under way.

Platinum-based, proton exchange membrane (PEM) hydrogen fuel cells provide zero-emissions electric-driven mobility in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

When fuelled by green hydrogen – made using renewable energy in the electrolysis process – they offer emissions-free transport and their application has the potential to assist with the decarbonisation of many industries, from transportation to construction, mining and beyond, the WPIC states.

The council points out that engineering and technology company Bosch, which supplies PEM fuel cells, expects that, by 2030, about one in eight newly registered commercial vehicles globally will be powered by a fuel cell, equivalent to an estimated 660 000 heavy-duty vehicles.

The WPIC explains that Bosch’s goal is for an FCEV truck to cost no more to operate than a diesel truck by that point in time.

With production on its fuel cell powertrain for trucks starting later this year, Bosch has increased investment in developing fuel cells for mobility solutions to almost €1-billion between 2021 and 2024.

The WPIC further highlights that vehicle manufacturer Volvo earlier this month unveiled its new FCEV truck. Equipped with two fuel cell stacks that have a combined capacity to generate 300 kW of electricity, the truck has a range of up to 1 000 km and a refuelling time of less than 15 minutes.

Testing on Volvo’s FCEV truck is under way, with customer pilots to follow and full commercialisation planned for the latter part of the decade, the WPIC says.

Volvo believes hydrogen-powered FCEVs are especially suitable for long distances and heavy, energy-demanding assignments characteristic of the heavy-duty vehicle segment.

The vehicle manufacturer has also started testing the world’s first PEM fuel-cell articulated dump truck. This six-wheel vehicle weighs 35 t and can be filled with 12 kg of hydrogen in 7.5 minutes, which will last for about four hours of operation.

In another first, diversified miner Anglo American earlier this year revealed the world’s largest hydrogen-powered mine haul truck, designed to operate in everyday mining conditions at its Mogalakwena platinum group metals mine in South Africa.

This FCEV is capable of generating 2 MW using multiple fuel cells to generate more power than its diesel predecessor and is capable of carrying a 290 t payload.

It is part of Anglo American’s nuGen Zero Emission Haulage Solution (ZEHS). nuGen provides a fully integrated green hydrogen system, consisting of production, fuelling and haulage components, with green hydrogen to be produced at the mine site.

Meanwhile, the WPIC notes that balancing the need to decarbonise with the economic reality that the early adoption of new technologies is expensive and takes time means a multi-pronged approach needs to be taken.

Internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are expected to power a significant portion of the global drive train mix well into the 2030s; however, from a platinum demand perspective, likely volume declines resulting from lower ICE production will be fully offset by tighter emissions standards and correspondingly higher platinum loadings in autocatalysts, in addition to platinum substitution for palladium.

Further, the council says that demand for platinum in hydrogen-fuelled FCEVs will add to the automotive demand for platinum from ICE vehicles, which is expected to peak in 2028.

It will then more than offset the eventual decline in ICE platinum demand, leading to sustained and significant growth in automotive demand for platinum through the 2030s.

Recent research by the WPIC highlights that supportive hydrogen policies could result in FCEV demand for platinum equalling current automotive demand by 2039, with broad-based commercial adoption of FCEVs bringing this forward to 2033, adding over three-million ounces to yearly automotive platinum demand in 11 years.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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