The World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) finds in its Platinum Perspectives August 2022 research that platinum’s role in enabling the achievement of global decarbonisation targets could be highly significant, given its use in proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers.
In turn, PEM electrolysers, when powered with renewable energy, generate green hydrogen. The WPIC explains that zero-emissions green hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used in a range of applications to replace fossil fuels.
For example, green hydrogen can be used as a feedstock in the production of fertilisers instead of natural gas, as well as a fuel to power fuel cell electric vehicles.
The WPIC says green hydrogen produced by platinum-based PEM electrolysers could, if solely used to displace the burning of natural gas, deliver more than 10% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction targets by 2030, as set out in the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement states that emissions must reduce by an average of 7.6% a year between 2020 and 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 ˚C above preindustrial levels, or at least reduce by 2.7% a year to limit global warming to 2 ˚C.
In 2020, global CO2 totalled 43.2 Gt, which means that, by 2030, CO2 reduction would have to range between 8.2 Gt and 18.7 Gt to mitigate against the warming scenarios.
The WPIC notes that, with the volume of electrolyser projects currently planned, and assuming the PEM market share of these ranges from 31% to 96%, between 9-million and 29-million tonnes of platinum-enabled green hydrogen could be produced by 2030.
Should this green hydrogen be used to displace natural gas in, for example, heating and industrial end-uses, it would equate to cumulative CO2 emission savings of between 182-million and 573-million tonnes from now until 2030.
At the lower end of this range, this equates to 1% of the savings needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets of limiting warming to 1.5 °C, while at the top end of the range it equates to more than 10% of the reductions needed to limit warming to 2 °C.
However, the pace of electrolyser capacity additions is expected to accelerate through the 2030s and yearly CO2 emission savings associated with PEM electrolysers could increase to more than one-billion tonnes a year by 2040.
To put this into context, every megawatt of PEM electrolyser capacity – when powered by renewables – can displace 10 000 t of CO2 emissions, assuming a 48.8% load factor and an operating life of 20 years for the electrolyser.
In terms of yearly platinum demand, this equates to between 400 000 oz and 1.3-million ounces in 2030, depending on PEM electrolyser market share.