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Heraeus Precious Appraisal

  • Edition 18 - 06 June 2020

Iridium & platinum in electrolysers: the clean, green hydrogen machines

Expansion of the global hydrogen economy is a significant growth opportunity for platinum and iridium demand. Global disruption has affected demand for both metals this year, although large cuts to South African mine supply, which accounts for 81% of iridium production, has brought the iridium market much closer to balance. Iridium has gained 9% (+$135/oz) in the year to date, although price volatility is expected once supply has normalised. Fortunately, iridium and platinum are critical and unique ingredients in electrolyser technology, so demand is likely to be sustained.

The COVID-19 pandemic is spurring governments to reduce emissions and steer their future towards clean energy. As large swathes of the world were forced into lockdown, there have been huge cuts in global emissions (-8% in 2020 – source: IEA) and people have experienced clean air in their cities. Growing Europe’s clean hydrogen economy was a key pillar of the €750 bn post-pandemic recovery plan, Next Generation EU, revealed by the European Commission last week.

Electrolysers are the front-runner for producing emission-free fuels for heavier forms of transport and heavy industry. Electrolysers split water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrical energy. Of several competing technologies, proton exchange membrane electrolysis (PEM EL) is best suited for the mass production of clean hydrogen and uses platinum- and iridium-coated electrode catalysts.

Long-term climate goals are driving investment into electrolyser production capacity and R&D on recyclability. A 20 MW electrolyser plant is under construction in the Netherlands, and six of Denmark’s leading industrial companies, including airline SAS and shipping group AP Moller-Maersk, have teamed up to launch what will be the largest green hydrogen project in the world at peak capacity, a 1.3 GW electrolyser powered by offshore wind. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is forecasting 25 Mt of green hydrogen to be produced annually by 2030, which requires significant scale up of electrolyser capacity, to around 270 GW. Electrolyser production is still in its early stages, but capacity is expanding rapidly which provides significant scope for cost reduction in the near term.

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