This week has seen the launch of the first-ever European Hydrogen Week from November 23 to 27, a series of events showcasing the key role hydrogen is expected to play in reaching the European Union’s (EU) “European Green Deal” objectives.
The proposed European Green Deal, announced at the end of 2019, sets out the EU’s ambition to make its economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities and making the transition just and inclusive for all.
As one of the initiatives under the European Green Deal, the EU released its Hydrogen Strategy in July this year, which established a roadmap for reducing the EU economy’s carbon emissions through a hydrogen ecosystem, while fostering sustainable growth and jobs, which is viewed as a critical adjunct in the context of recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.
The strategy contributes significantly to the EU’s goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, with a strategic objective to install at least 40 GW of hydrogen electrolysers by 2030 – with production of up to 10-million tonnes a year of ‘green’ hydrogen across the region.
Green hydrogen is produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable energy, including electricity from wind turbines or solar photovoltaic panels.
In announcing its strategy, the EU joins around 70 countries that have, this year, stated their intention to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Platinum, in conjunction with iridium, is used as a catalyst in proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers that use polymer electrolyte, one of the two leading electrolysis technologies available in the market.
A new platinum and iridium-based catalyst – which contains up to 90% less iridium, while performing up to three times better, has recently been developed by Heraeus Precious Metals.
The company’s new electrocatalyst requires only a fraction of the iridium previously required by PEM electrolysers, which split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Heraeus had acknowledged the need to be more cost effective with iridium catalysts and for lower-iridium containing catalysts to make PEM electrolysis work better.
A high 1 g/kW to 2 g/kW of iridium black is required for standard PEM electrolysers, but Heraeus Precious Metals has succeeded in slashing the iridium required to as little as 0.3 g/kW to 0.4 g/kW for the new ultra-low-iridium-loaded electrocatalysts for PEM electrolysis.
A statement by the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) reads that this not only reduces costs, making green hydrogen production at the scale envisaged by the EU’s Hydrogen Strategy more affordable, but also removes concerns about the availability of iridium, of which only a small amount is produced annually, ensuring PEM electrolysers remain at the forefront of electrolyser technology as the market expands.
The reduction in the amount of iridium needed in PEM electrolysis is meaningful, says the WPIC, as it supports the wider adoption of PEM electrolysers and therefore increases demand for platinum.
Global science and chemicals company Johnson Matthey has suggested that PEM electrolysis could achieve a market share of between 30% and 60%.
Platinum’s role in the hydrogen economy is crucial both throughout the EU and beyond; it is used in fuel cells for fuel cell electric vehicles, as well as in the production of green hydrogen.
The global platinum demand impact of announced green hydrogen policies is clearly sizeable over the longer-term. Current EU and China green hydrogen generation capacity targets alone will require, cumulatively, between 300 000 oz and 600 000 oz of platinum by 2030.