Vowing to ‘build back better’, US President Joe Biden has placed climate change high on his administration’s agenda, with plans to achieve 100% clean energy and to commit to net zero by 2050.
Underlining its intent, the US re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement, an international treaty on climate change with a goal to limit global temperature rise to below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.
Biden has promised a $2-trillion accelerated investment over his first term aimed at building modern, sustainable infrastructure to support the transition to a clean energy economy.
This bodes well for zero emission hydrogen technologies which are likely to be an integral part of achieving the US’s climate change objectives, says industry body the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC).
A recent report, ‘Roadmap to a US Hydrogen Economy’, forecasts that hydrogen from low-carbon sources could supply about 14% of the country’s energy needs by 2050. According to the report, hydrogen is at a turning point for the US, with evidence of sector coupling under way.
The report was compiled by a coalition of companies from the energy, transportation, fuel cell manufacturing and electric power industries with analytical support provided by McKinsey & Company.
Sector coupling refers to the integration of energy-consuming sectors – buildings (heating and cooling), transport and industry – with the power-producing sector. It leads to economies of scale as systemic benefits start to kick in. Infrastructure costs are shared across applications and technological developments can be applied in multiple ways, notes the WPIC.
It mentions that projects that are boosting the US’s green hydrogen trajectory include the $150-million Air Liquide biogas renewable liquid hydrogen plant in Nevada, which is scheduled for completion in 2022, with a 30 t daily generation capacity – enough to supply 42 000 fuel cell vehicles.
In November last year, US-based Cummins also announced plans to grow its fuel cell and hydrogen production businesses. As part of the US Department of Energy’s H2@Scale initiative, Cummins is developing a Class 8 truck powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Platinum, of which South Africa holds significant reserves, sits in the sweet spot for facilitating the hydrogen economy owing to its use in not only generating green hydrogen, but also in fuel cells for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), acclaims the council.
FCEV growth in the US is currently being led by heavy-duty vehicle applications in ports and for road haulage. This builds on growth from fleet vehicles such as forklifts, with passenger cars a longer-term prospect – although there are already around 8 000 passenger FCEVs and 44 hydrogen refuelling stations in the state of California, which has taken a lead on decarbonisation, the organisation notes.
“As the hydrogen economy and the FCEV market grows in the US and elsewhere, it will create significant demand for platinum in the medium term. In the EU and China alone, it is estimated that green hydrogen production will require between 300 000 oz and 600 000 oz of platinum by 2030; the US’s decarbonisation goals and concomitant growth in green hydrogen projects will only add to these volumes.
"These developments increase the certainty of a hydrogen future, a factor which has driven significantly more investor interest in, and ownership of, platinum since 2019,” says the WPIC.