IT may take ten years earlier than hydrogen gas expertise is value aggressive with conventional fossil fuels, in accordance with Mark Cutifani, CEO of Anglo American.

Talking through the launch of the agency’s sustainability report in April – which is able to turn into a bi-annual occasion in future owing to elevated investor consideration on the matter – Cutifani stated improvement efforts over the following two to a few years might be “essential”.

That’s the time-frame given to a joint analysis effort between Anglo’s 80%-owned Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Umicore, a Belgian supplies dealing with and recycling firm. The events are hoping to show up chemistry that might allow hydrogen gas to be transported to forecourts in tankers akin to the present supply of petroleum.

Having the ability to refuel an FCEV shortly and inexpensively is the important thing to adoption of the expertise as a secondary gas possibility (the first utilization of hydrogen being in trade). At the moment, a refuelling level requires hydrogen to be electrolysed.

“It’s a journey with Umicore in understanding how we use the new metals in these new purposes,” stated Cutifani. “It’s a two- to five-year interval, however we’re searching past 2030,” he stated.

The expertise Amplats and Umicore is investigating is having hydrogen bond to a liquid that’s then transformed by a gas cell electrical automobile (FCEV), wealthy in platinum group metals, particularly platinum and the lesser recognized component, iridium. That is the ‘new’ steel to which Cutifani refers.

It ought to be famous that there’s nothing particularly new about gas cells. Throughout the Nineties there was loads of excited discuss their influence on platinum demand. However in the present day’s enthusiasm comes on the again of a structural deficit in PGMs that has shone a light-weight in the marketplace position of different metals within the PGM basket.

Take rhodium: it’s a comparatively junior member of the PGM household by way of its prevalence with different parts, and but it presently contains as a lot as half of whole steel revenues for PGM producers. What, then, may one count on of one other steel – iridium – which has utility to gas cell expertise?


Earlier than unlocking the by-product revenues of iridium, nonetheless, there may be the unsolved drawback of find out how to make FCEVs an integral a part of the ‘drivetrain’, the time period the PGM sector makes use of to discuss with its utility to fashionable transport. Reaching widescale adoption of FCEVs will take time and would require a significant infrastructural rollout.

But analysts suppose the seeds for FCEV have already been sown. In keeping with experiences this yr by BMO Capital Markets and JP Morgan Cazenove, the false begin skilled by FCEVs within the Nineties is more likely to be prevented within the subsequent ten years, even when the electrical automobile market is presently dominated by batteries powered with lithium-ion expertise.

“Proper now, we might view lithium-ion batteries as the present star of the zero emissions automobile ‘present’, and gas cells because the gifted – understudy awaiting their ‘huge break’ – nonetheless, given the well-thought plans, the rise in public spending, and profitable trials of gas cell autos in trains and transit buses, it’s only a matter of time earlier than the understudy comes into the highlight as effectively,” stated BMO in its report.

For this to occur, quite a lot of stars must align. One is public coverage. With out political and regulatory help, FCEV adoption might be stillborn.

In keeping with JP Morgan Cazenove, the lithium-ion EV trade is “… approaching the tipping level of turning into commercially viable with out subsidy”. In its view, this helps the mannequin that subsidy produces scale which in flip offers for decrease value and expertise development, and leads to commercialisation. “This might turn into a reference level for coverage makers to firmly help the event of the FCEV chain,” the financial institution stated.

Numerous technological hurdles additionally have to be overcome earlier than the required efficiencies might be realised on a big scale foundation within the transport sector, which is the pressure behind the Amplats, Umicore analysis and improvement technique.

However even earlier than that, hydrogen extraction itself must turn into decarbonised. In the present day’s hydrogen manufacturing is known as polluting ‘gray hydrogen’. It must evolve into low and 0 emission blue and inexperienced hydrogen – a expensive course of. Nonetheless, the advantages on provide are huge for PGM producers.

In keeping with JP Morgan, every 1% penetration in China’s home auto market is about 250,000 models of car gross sales. Assuming Renimbi 1 million per automobile – about $150,000 – that is already a Rmb250bn ($37.5bn) market with out making an allowance for the affiliated refuelling infrastructure and companies. There’s huge incentive to take this up.

“This is able to be excellent news for us,” stated Cutifani on the prospect of FCEVs getting traction out there. “It’s fascinating to see that a few of our rivals are beginning to spend money on downstream analysis. I believe the mining trade is starting to know the relevance,” he stated.


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