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Preserving Precious Metals on Road to Green Hydrogen

Green hydrogen is fast becoming a focus of the energy transition, offering clean and sustainable energy. One significant hurdle to affordability and accessibility is the cost and supply of precious metals, like platinum and iridium, which are used as catalysts in the electrolysis process to produce green hydrogen. Here, Darren Dale, director of product management at Evoqua Water Technologies, discusses Magneto’s latest innovation in non-precious metal electrolysis technologies.

In 2021, global production of hydrogen stood at 94 million metric tons and was valued at around $130 billion[1][2]. By 2050, demand for alternate energy sources could reach as high as 500–680 million metric tons[2]. There is just one issue. Currently, the majority of hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels and is responsible for generating 830 million tons of CO2 each year[3].

The European Union has already seen the value of hydrogen in facilitating decarbonization, adopting a strategy in 2020 that set out to produce and import 10 million tons by 2030[4]. While this all sounds positive, the adoption and future viability of green hydrogen are certainly not without their challenges.

Limitation: Precious Metal Catalysts

The catalysts needed for electrolysis are typically made from precious metals, such as iridium and platinum. These metals, which are not only expensive to buy but are also in limited supply, are often consumed or lost within the process. Put simply, despite the necessary recycling of spent electrodes, there is not going to be enough of these precious metals to meet ambitious global green hydrogen production targets. This is creating a bottleneck in the widespread adoption of green hydrogen and raising questions about its suitability and sustainability as a solution to the energy transition. But why are precious metals used?

In electrolysis, water is split into its component parts, hydrogen, and oxygen, by passing an electrical current through it. This process is exothermic, meaning it releases heat, but it also requires a significant amount of energy to get started. Precious metals like platinum and iridium are ‘platinum group’ metals and are highly effective at facilitating the required chemical reactions.

When used as catalysts, these precious metals lower the activation energy required for the reactions to occur, making the process more efficient and less costly. Additionally, precious metals have a high resistance to corrosion, which makes them well suited for use in electrolysis, which can be a harsh and corrosive environment – particularly in the case of plants splitting water for hydrogen production.

This reliance on precious metals is a substantial potential barrier to the widespread investment in green hydrogen production. Part of this is down to the volatility of the precious metals market and the general cost of raw materials. The prices may fluctuate based on a variety of factors, including supply and demand, mining capacity, environmental regulations, economic conditions, and geopolitical events. These shifts can have significant implications for green hydrogen producers, impacting the viability and profitability of their projects.

Enabling Adoption: Innovative Alkaline Electrodes

Given the challenges of relying on precious metals for electrolysis, there is a strong desire within the industry to find solutions that minimize or eliminate their need. That's exactly what Evoqua – a leading global provider of electrochemical process solutions – is doing with its advanced alkaline electrodes. These revolutionary electrodes do not use precious metals and can operate at double the capacity of current electrodes, while still offering a long-life span. In fact, they have been shown to significantly reduce the total number of electrodes needed, while offering a viable path toward lowering the cost – and increasing the accessibility – of green hydrogen production.

As the appetite for green hydrogen continues to rise, producers must find ways to ramp up production while managing its levelized cost to meet targets. Evoqua's expertise in electrodes and electrochemical technologies makes it the perfect partner for companies looking to advance their green hydrogen production capabilities while minimizing lifecycle costs. With decades of experience, Evoqua is at the forefront of innovative solutions to enable sustainable and accessible green hydrogen production.

Now is the perfect time for interested parties to stay ahead of the curve by getting in touch with the Evoqua team in preparation for growth in green hydrogen demand.

Darren Dale
Directer of Product Manager, EMEA
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[1] https://www.iea.org/reports/global-hydrogen-review-2022/executive-summary

[2] https://blogs.worldbank.org/ppps/green-hydrogen-key-investment-energy-transition

[3] https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

[4] https://energy.ec.europa.eu/topics/energy-systems-integration/hydrogen_en#:~:text=Hydrogen%20accelerator,-With%20the%20publication&text=The%20REPowerEU%20plan's%20ambition%20is,Directive%2C%20published%20in%20July%202021.

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