Sibanye-Stillwater says hydrogen catalyst will save iridium market

According to SIBANYE-Stillwater, new technology for hydrogen electrolysis has been developed, which may lessen dependency on ruthenium, the more abundant sister metal to the rare platinum group metal (PGM) iridium.

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The technique was created by Heraeus, a German business that recycles and refines PGM concentrate. It is a ruthenium-based catalyst for Proton Exchange Membrane water – PEM electrolysis. In August of last year, Heraeus and Sibanye-Stillwater first partnered to co-fund a three-year-long technological project that, if successful, would be commercialised by both companies.

Fuel cells that run on hydrogen employ a chemical mechanism that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. However, an electrolyser and energy are needed in order to split the hydrogen atom. Green hydrogen requires sustainable energy sources to be produced.

A green hydrogen capacity of around 175 gigawatts (GW) is anticipated by 2030, according to the Hydrogen Council, a consortium of over 150 businesses operating along the hydrogen value chain. Of this, 40 percent is anticipated to be created by PEM electrolysis, which would account for the majority of the 300,000 ounces of iridium produced annually.

A system that depends on iridium, an exceedingly rare element. There will soon be supply shortages since there are only around nine metric tonnes of iridium mined per year, and it is widely utilized in many sectors. This is because less iridium is needed for PEM applications.

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If this pace of iridium scarcity premium is maintained, original equipment makers will find it costly to implement and eventually unfeasible.

For one GW of capacity to be built, around 400 kg (14,109 oz) of iridium is needed. Reductions of less than 100 kg (3,527 oz) per GW are required in order to prevent shortages in supplies. Potential supply issues are reduced since the ruthenium-based catalyst can permit an 85% reduction in iridium when compared to an iridium oxide catalyst. The company reported that the primary production of ruthenium is 3.5 times that of iridium.

Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater, stated, “As the world’s largest producer of primary iridium, we firmly believe that sustainable demand of these metals, with supply in mind, is beneficial for the entire industry.”

“We greatly value our partnership in this endeavor, and the commendable progress achieved by Heraeus in their work to date is encouraging,” he stated.

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