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How to deal with the predicted material scarcity for the energy transition

As you will read in the first part of our publication, it is crucial for policymakers to have material scarcity on their radar. To meet the future European demand for hydrogen, we need larger amounts of rare raw materials than are available. Demand for iridium will exceed current global annual production (122%) and there will also be a substantial need for other essential materials. This makes meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement quite a challenge. But we can see opportunities!

Three solutions to handle material scarcity

In part two of our publication, ‘Towards a green future’, we consider solutions to the problem of material scarcity, focusing mainly on technical solutions. To produce hydrogen, you need an electrolyser and there is a lot to be gained in the development of these devices. We are therefore concentrating on this area and we distinguish three types of solution:

1. Reduce dependence on critical raw materials

In this solution, we design the electrolyser in such a way that it needs less iridium to produce hydrogen. This technique is known as Atomic Layer Deposition. It involves applying extremely thin layers of the material in the form of vapour. This method uses around 15 times less iridium.

2. Intensify the use of current electrolysers.

You can get more out of an electrolyser by increasing the current density, for example, which allows you to produce more hydrogen. Another possibility is to extend the life of an electrolyser.

3. Recycle critical raw materials.

There are several ways of reusing the critical raw materials. The method that you apply depends on the type of electrolyser and the raw material. Two approaches that we consider to be effective are the hydrometallurgical treatment and selective electrochemical dissolution. 

Strategy 1 has most impact

The strategies outlined above have varying impacts on our green ambitions. Our research shows that strategy 1 (Reducing critical raw materials) is the most effective. It’s important to note, however, that none of the strategies can solve the raw materials problem on its own. The problem is too large and too complex for that. But if we want to make the hydrogen developments a success, we must continue on the route that we have outlined with the three strategies.

Download paper 2

Read all about the solutions to raw material scarcity here

Download paper

In part one 1 of our ‘Towards a green future’ publication, you can read all about our analysis of the problem.

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