Home » Ruthenium’s Role in Green Hydrogen Production Gains Attention, Boosts Efficiency

Ruthenium’s Role in Green Hydrogen Production Gains Attention, Boosts Efficiency

Research Highlights Ruthenium's Potential in Green Hydrogen, Ammonia Cracking

by Adenike Adeodun

Ruthenium, one of the six platinum-group metals (PGMs), is gaining significant research attention for its exceptional potential to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of green hydrogen production from green ammonia.

Late last year, a ruthenium-based catalyst emerged as a solution to the scarcity of iridium, another PGM, in the production of green hydrogen from water electrolysis. Researchers are now optimistic that ruthenium could similarly boost the recovery of green hydrogen from green ammonia.

The latest innovation, “AmmoCatCoat,” which incorporates ruthenium, has attracted € 2 million in public funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the Material Hub and Resource Sovereignty funding focus.

“I’m convinced that with ‘AmmoCatCoat,’ we’ll succeed in providing a more efficient and sustainable method for ammonia cracking,” stated Dr. Konrad Krois of Heraeus Precious Metals in a release to Mining Weekly from Hanau.

With platinum and iridium often dominating the hydrogen space, Heraeus and South Africa’s PGMs major, Sibanye-Stillwater, have partnered to explore new applications for PGMs in the hydrogen economy. They are focusing on how applications can profit from the special traits of palladium, another PGM element. This includes hydrogen purification during blue hydrogen production and applications in the semiconductor industry where high-purity hydrogen is essential.

In moving technologies to scale, reliable process efficiency is crucial, and PGMs are the most efficient providers of such competence. Heraeus will lead a consortium of six institutes and companies to research the use of novel, directly heated catalyst modules based on sustainable carbon. This is amid the energy transition, which needs material-efficient and competitive solutions.

The Heraeus-led project consortium includes Fraunhofer ISE, Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy, Centre for Transmission Electron Microscopy, PYREG GmbH, and Purem by Eberspächer. These partners bring expertise in catalysis, biomass conversion, material characterization, and surface treatment. The aim is to provide a practical demonstration of operation under real technical conditions at a pilot plant scale and develop scaling concepts.

For transport, hydrogen can be chemically stored in the form of ammonia and then released. For this chemical reaction, PGM catalysts like ruthenium are exceptionally suitable. The project focuses on achieving maximum ammonia conversion at temperatures below 500 °C, resulting in significant energy savings.

The development aims for a compact design, longevity, and stability of the catalyst. The carrier material is based on biomass carbons, making it more sustainable and efficient. Current research shows that the catalytic activity of ruthenium can be markedly improved by using carbon as the catalyst support.

In South Africa, initial production of over a million tonnes of green ammonia a year is planned at the proposed R105-billion Hive Hydrogen project at Coega in the Eastern Cape. This project is headed by former Eskom CEO and Standard Bank chairperson Thulani Gcabashe. It presents an opportunity to create a key hydrogen valley-type kickstart in a country well-endowed with renewable energy, land, port infrastructure, and the minerals and metals needed to be a globally competitive green hydrogen producer.

Hive Hydrogen is collaborating with Itochu Corporation of Japan to develop a least-cost green ammonia solution. Green electrons and green hydrogen offer South Africa a massive opportunity to reindustrialize, said Mike Peo, head of infrastructure, energy, and telecommunications at Nedbank CIB, during this month’s Green Hydrogen Roundtable.

“There’s an incredible ecosystem that exists around green hydrogen. There are maybe 30 to 40 very specific types of opportunities that can arise as a consequence of building green hydrogen and green ammonia production plants and having molecules that can be utilized,” Peo added.

Examples include the progression into green hydrogen fuel cells, which are being envisaged to power large haul trucks used for mining. A 500 t example has been under trial at the Mogalakwena PGMs mine in Limpopo for many months. Australian mining company and green molecules promoter Fortescue publicized last week that its Liebherr T 264 haul truck is powered by hydrogen as part of its mission to decarbonize heavy industry.

US company Plug Power recently publicized its Class 6 medium-duty hydrogen fuel cell electric truck for middle-distance deliveries, reducing the need for frequent downtime associated with battery recharging.

The World Platinum Investment Council reported that a hydrogen fuel cell refuse truck was exhibited at WasteExpo at the Las Vegas Convention Centre in the US. ANGI Energy Systems broke ground on its new $4-million hydrogen refueling station in the US Midwest, following the launch of its hydrogen business two years ago. Hydrogen Fuel News noted that China’s increase in hydrogen cars could lead to 1,200 hydrogen refueling stations being built in the near term.

At the local launch of BMW’s first hydrogen car fleet on South African roads in March, Engineering News & Mining Weekly discovered that BMW’s hydrogen refueling station in Midrand is powered by Elemental Energy’s off-grid hydrogen power system, which has a crucial Toyota fuel cell underpin. Elemental Energy is on a major mission to build hydrogen power systems in developing countries.

The BMW iX5 Hydrogen, tested by enthusiastic media on South African roads, combines long-distance capability and short refueling stops with emission-free driving. The car’s platinum-based fuel cell turns green Sasol hydrogen into clean electricity, powering the quiet drive train. Sasol has been producing grey hydrogen in South Africa since 1950, and South Africa’s abundant PGMs make it one of ten countries traversed by BMW’s latest green hydrogen masterpiece at the time of the local launch.

Hydrogen is not only the planet’s most abundant energy source but also a transport vector with storage capacity that ensures renewable energy can be offered even when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Growing the market for hydrogen-fueled mobility solutions is a key pillar of South Africa’s green hydrogen economy strategy, which will lower carbon emissions, unlock investment, create jobs, and drive demand for the country’s catalyzing PGMs.

South African PGM producer Anglo American Platinum was prominent at the launch of the BMW iX5 Hydrogen. Engineering News & Mining Weekly can confirm that the car infinitely outstrips the ‘sheer driving pleasure’ slogan of the already top-rated BMW mobility brand.


Source: Mining Weekly

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