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Hydrogen Economy: A New Frontier for Platinum Group Metals

PGMs Play Crucial Role in Advancing Hydrogen Production and Applications

by Adenike Adeodun

The hydrogen economy is emerging as a vital growth area for platinum group metals (PGMs), with these metals playing a pivotal role in hydrogen production and applications. Dr Philipp Walter, Executive VP of new business development at Heraeus Precious Metals, emphasized the global momentum of the hydrogen economy in a recent Zoom interview with Mining Weekly.

According to a report by Mining Weekly, Heraeus Precious Metals has established its new Business Line Hydrogen Systems unit, focusing on hydrogen applications, particularly proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysis and fuel cells. This move comes as a response to the expected shift in PGM demand due to the rise of battery-electric vehicles.

Dr Walter observed a significant increase in discussions around hydrogen and PEM electrolysis over the past five years, highlighting the growing interest in this field. He predicts substantial growth in the hydrogen economy, which will necessitate an increased focus on hydrogen-related applications where PGMs are essential.

The applications for PGMs in the hydrogen economy are extensive, ranging from green hydrogen production using PEM electrolysis to the transport of hydrogen through carriers like liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC) and ammonia. These metals also play a critical role in gas purification and fuel cell technology.

One of the key challenges in this emerging field is ensuring the availability of iridium, a scarce and expensive PGM, for PEM electrolysis growth. Heraeus Precious Metals is addressing this by developing iridium-based electrocatalysts with up to 90% less iridium loading compared to other solutions.

The hydrogen economy also presents significant opportunities for South Africa. It is estimated that by 2050, the hydrogen economy could add 3.6% to the country’s GDP and create 370,000 jobs. South Africa, along with Namibia, is already charting numerous green hydrogen-linked projects and is acting purposefully to harness the potential of green hydrogen.

Innovative financing structures, such as the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), are being utilized to support the sector. Hive Hydrogen South Africa is leading the way with its green ammonia export project in the Eastern Cape, in collaboration with Itochu Corporation of Japan. The project, set to be operational by 2028, aims to export green ammonia, hydrogen, and potentially ammonium nitrate.

This development in the hydrogen economy, supported by the strategic use of PGMs and innovative projects in Southern Africa, signals a new era in energy production and consumption, with significant implications for global energy markets and environmental sustainability.

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