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Heraeus Precious Appraisal

  • Edition 38 - 25th October 2021

Hydrogen ICE: iridium gains but platinum has losses and gains

Hydrogen internal combustion engines (ICEs) could be the future for powering large vehicles and non-road and stationary equipment. Hydrogen can be burned in a combustion engine, which has some standard engine parts, with a fuel injection and ignition system for the hydrogen. This means that manufacturing and repairs are straightforward with existing technology and infrastructure. The hydrogen engine is a similar size and cost to a diesel engine, whereas fuel cells are currently much more expensive, as are batteries which also add dramatically to the weight of trucks or excavators. Non-road equipment tends to be run for a significant portion of the working day and may even do two shifts, meaning that the frequency and time needed for recharging also make batteries unsuitable.

Hydrogen engines may not require autocatalysts, removing some PGM demand. There may be some NOx emissions, but the engine temperature can be controlled to limit those and selective catalytic reduction (no PGMs) used if necessary. The US, Europe and Japan have legislation for emissions from non-road equipment that results in some modest PGM demand (~160 koz Pt, ~40 koz Pd) for autocatalysts.

Platinum could still benefit if the hydrogen engine is the way to decarbonise heavy machinery. To properly decarbonise this sector, the hydrogen needs to be green, i.e. produced from renewable energy with electrolysers. Of these, proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers use platinum (and iridium) as catalysts. The loss of platinum demand for vehicle catalysts could be exceeded by additional demand from electrolysers. Platinum, or iridium, could also gain from previously diesel engines now requiring spark plugs. Platinum use in electrolysers is only a few thousand ounces at present, but it is expected to grow rapidly as the hydrogen economy expands.

Hydrogen engines will soon be available. JCB is investing £100 million in the development of hydrogen engines for its non-road equipment, with the first vehicles expected to be available by the end of 2022. Rolls-Royce is developing gas engines for power generation that can run with 10% hydrogen now and up to 100% in 2023. In the near term, the limiting factor for sales is likely to be hydrogen availability.

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