The catalyst miracle

The growing importance of nickel, tin and copper

Iridium required to meet the 2030 targets set in the EU’s hydrogen strategy
Heraeus
© Heraeus

New times call for new ideas – and new materials. A global increase in electrification calls for new chemical products. Petroleum catalysts are a major component of the fossil fuel era and must be replaced. The current battle for rare natural resources and chemicals makes it all the more important to invest in research on inexpensive, readily available alternatives. Evidence points to nickel, tin and copper, and their undiscovered properties, as cheaper options. Good news for the electrolyzer and fuel cell industries.

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Specialty metals for water electrolysis

Are iridium and platinum critical materials?

Hydrogen will have a crucial role to play in transforming the energy market. The first element of the periodic table has great potential to decarbonize much of the steel, cement and chemical industries as well as aviation, heavy-duty road haulage and maritime transportation. As a result, politicians across the EU are mapping out plans to support electrolyzer capacity increases and hydrogen production methods.

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Iridium could slow down electrolyser run-up

Vulcano plot of different metal oxides for oxygen evolution.
Fig. 1: Vulcano plot of different metal oxides for oxygen evolution, according to [2] © Trasatti S., Electrocatalysis by oxides – attempt at a unifying approach, J. Electroanal. Chem. 1980; 125-131.

Although hydrogen produced from renewable energies has been under discussion for decades as a possible alternative to fossil fuels, it has so far only played a minor role. Recently, however, there have been signs of change, so that “green” hydrogen could gain momentum in the energy sector: More and more powerful electrolysis systems are available, and the prices for these systems are falling. If, however, PEM electrolysers were to be added on a large scale, iridium could become scarce and thus more expensive and thus stand in the way of a reduction in the already considerable investment costs.

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