15 November 2023
On 14 November, Heraeus and Sibanye-Stillwater launched a new electrocatalyst for green hydrogen production by PEM electrolysis. This ruthenium-based catalyst aims to overcome PEM electrolyser industry scaling-up concerns. The new catalyst formulation offers significantly lower iridium loadings but still achieves industry-leading activity and stability. SFA has estimated the impact of this new catalyst on the long-term supply-demand balances for these metals.
A solution to the iridium supply problem for PEM electrolysis?
Iridium (as metal and as iridium oxide) has long been recognised as the most suitable catalyst for oxygen evolution reaction (OER) at the anode in the production of hydrogen in PEM electrolysers. But growth forecasts based on a range of PEM electrolyser capacity estimates would lead to iridium demand forecasts that would be unsustainably high from the 2030s onwards.
Primary iridium supply, mostly from South Africa, is limited to around 250–300 koz refined production per annum with no real scope to expand output. So the future of PEM electrolysis at scale relies on combinations of thrifting the total catalyst loading, substituting some iridium for an alternative metal such as ruthenium, or simply scaling back the share of PEM in electrolytic hydrogen production.
Head of Clean Energy and Sustainability
1. The new catalyst formulation sets the standard for low-loading PEM anode catalysts, whilst allaying industry concerns about sustainable PEM uptake.
2. While the idea to combine the best electrochemical attributes of Ru (activity) and Ir (durability) oxides is not new, Heraeus seems to be the first to launch such a product. Scalability will now be key to ensuring market relevance.
3. This development may ease speculative pressure on Ir prices by addressing potential long-term deficits caused by primary supply downgrades, in time.
4. Recycling a mixed metal oxide is metallurgically challenging, but the recycling process is likely to (and indeed, must) remain economically viable.
SFA's Iridium and Ruthenium market intelligence
SFA produces a quarterly iridium and ruthenium market report, keeping you up-to-date with these markets. The Iridium & Ruthenium Quarterly Market Report offers an independent metal price outlook to 2027 with both near-term risks and longer-term drivers of supply and demand.
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