02 August 2022
Platinum and iridium are critical to the green hydrogen economy
Platinum group metals (PGMs) are essential ingredients for unlocking the hydrogen economy as the world pivots towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. SFA (Oxford) is helping companies across the critical materials value chain to make this happen. SFA has been deeply involved at the centre of the PGM industry for over 20 years; during this time, we have developed unrivalled know-how, not just in PGM production but also in the markets where PGMs are used, and the influences on these markets over the decades ahead. So besides the major established markets for PGMs in transport (autocatalysts) and industrial catalysis, SFA’s expertise extends deeper into the energy sector, covering battery raw materials and the hydrogen economy.
The hydrogen economy offers meaningful long-term demand growth opportunities for the PGM industry, particularly for platinum and iridium, the critical materials required in Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysers, and also for platinum and ruthenium in PEM fuel cells.
Unlocking green hydrogen’s potential thanks to PGMs
Today, the SFA hydrogen team took a closer look at ITM Power’s new gigafactory in Sheffield where it is scaling-up capacity, exploring the intricacies of its manufacturing and R&D operation of PEM electrolysers.
SFA was given a detailed tour of the gigafactory, currently the world’s largest PEM electrolyser factory. ITM Power expects to reach an annual production capacity of 1 GW per annum by the end of 2023 and 5 GW p.a. in 2024.
The transport and energy sectors have long been integral to the PGM markets and will continue so as global economies and industries transition away from oil and petrochemicals and into renewable energy. Green hydrogen projects are getting larger, as electrolyser production capacity increases, which will lead to increasingly competitive hydrogen production costs.
In the energy sector, ITM Power’s electrolysers are used to decarbonise heat, store renewable energy, provide backup power, power-to-gas energy storage, grid balancing (absorb extra renewable energy on the electricity network and help stabilise frequency and voltage variations), hydrogen islands (rapid response electrolysers for off-grid communities to support transport, heat and power sectors), hydrogen tube trailer filling (for transporting green hydrogen to remote areas) and mobile outdoor lighting (fuel cell and LED lighting).
Iridium and platinum are key to PEM electrolyser technology, the process best suited to work with the intermittent nature of renewable power. Currently market participants are focused on reducing precious metal loadings to secure long-term sustainability of the industry and to ensure cost-competitive production of green hydrogen. The iridium content in electrolysers must be thrifted, as mined supply of this metal is relatively small. Iridium is predominantly sourced from the South African PGM industry as a by-product of mining platinum, palladium and rhodium, which are produced and used in much higher volumes.
Over 40 countries currently have, or are developing, green hydrogen strategies. Across energy-intensive industries, electrolysers and green hydrogen production support some key processes:
- In refineries, green hydrogen can help desulphurise crude oil without emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.
- In steel production, significant sustainability gains can be achieved by switching to green hydrogen to reduce iron ore to iron.
- The production of renewable ammonia as fertiliser for global food production can decouple production from fossil fuels, improving food supply and crop yield.
In transport, ITM Power’s electrolysers are already delivering green hydrogen for buses, heavy-duty vehicles, cars, trains, shipping and materials handling. Hydrogen refuelling stations can make green hydrogen fuel rapidly accessible to consumers and industrial users.
How can we help your green hydrogen journey?
SFA is here to support you develop the right strategies, informed by an understanding of the competitive landscape for the critical metals involved in the hydrogen economy. We have long-term forecasts of the availability of platinum, iridium and ruthenium; we have in depth knowledge of the main end-uses to help forecast where demand will grow and contract; and these also feed our long-term price forecasts, widely used to inform purchasing decisions.
With markets at a relatively early stage and with so many unknowns, SFA’s expertise in scenario modelling, looking at critical ‘what-ifs’ is valuable to support investment decisions and technology choices.
SFA and ITM Power are both members of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, which is dedicated to supporting stakeholders across the entire value chain of both the Hydrogen sector and the Fuel Cell industry.