PGMs landscape is changing but not fading, producers agree

7th October 2021 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Creamer Media Online Writer

When it comes to the future growth of platinum group metal (PGM) producers, some are covering their bases by diversifying into battery metals, while others are looking to benefit from the much-hyped hydrogen economy.

Impala Platinum CEO Nico Muller sees the company’s scope for growth as being more internal at first, focusing on strengthening its existing operations and remaining competitive in future markets.

The company’s longer-term growth plan involves greater local beneficiation, for which it is undertaking feasibility studies, and using cleaner sources of electricity.

Anglo American Platinum CEO Natascha Viljoen, however, admits that the transition happening in mobility brings uncertainty, since PGMs are not used in the production of electric vehicles or its batteries, with the exception being hybrids.

However, she is optimistic about PGMs demand in the hydrogen space, as demand for hydrogen in decarbonisation strategies is increasing. She mentions that more than $70-billion worth of hydrogen development projects have been pledged by governments across the world and that there are plans for 196 MW of electrolyser installations by 2030.

Viljoen believes there is an opportunity for coexistence between battery electric vehicles, hybrids and fuel cell vehicles and that it is not a question of either or.

She adds that the PGMs industry has taken market development into its own hands before and says it can do it again – it simply has to develop alternative markets for PGMs to grow demand.

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman says although the company is aggressively expanding on its battery metals strategy, it will not turn its back on PGMs.

Rather, he explains that the company’s entry into the battery metals sector has been a natural evolution for its merger and acquisition value creation strategy, and makes business sense.

Sibanye has, for years, been planning its strategic diversification approach and is “not simply responding to trends of the moment”. 

In five years’ time, Sibanye aims to have a third of its earnings generated by gold, a third by energy metals and a third by PGMs.

Meanwhile, Royal Bafokeng Platinum CEO Steve Phiri says PGMs is “certainly not” a sunset industry and that incoming threats should be seen as opportunities.

He maintains that catalytic converter demand will remain as long as internal combustion engine vehicles are on the market, which will still be the case for years to come.

He says the PGMs industry has always been able to regenerate itself through the ups and downs of commodity cycles and market conditions.

The company will, for the foreseeable future, remain focused on being a pure-play PGMs producer.

*Platinum producers spoke during the Joburg Indaba hosted on October 6.