Shortage of materials threatens planned green hydrogen production
The Netherlands is fully committed to developing the hydrogen economy: replacing fossil fuels with (green) hydrogen from sustainable sources such as sun and wind. However, an important aspect remains underexposed in the plans: there is a threat of a major shortage of the raw materials needed for the electrolysers that produce the hydrogen.
Because the availability of those scarce raw materials such as iridium and platinum will become acute in the short term, there is a growing problem for the energy transition. By 2050, hydrogen production in the EU alone will require much more iridium than is currently produced worldwide every year.
Towards a green future
In two papers “Towards a green future”, TNO argues for greater awareness of this problem by having it permanently discussed in climate consultations and setting up a risk management system for security of supply. The government can also consider acting as a strategic purchaser and thus give priority to this application of the materials. In the papers TNO also explored which strategies can contribute most to countering this looming scarcity.
Reduction has the most potential. This means to use less material per electrolyser or to look for less scarce replacement materials or a mix of techniques. Using less is the most promising, according to TNO in the second paper (pdf). Other strategies and techniques that TNO looked at are recycling the materials at the end of their useful life and using electrolysers longer and more intensively (efficiency). All these technologies are still at an early stage.
Vapor Deposition with Atomic Layer Deposition
An important technique that TNO is already using on a laboratory scale to use less iridium and platinum in electrolysers is Atomic Layer Deposition. The material is applied in vapor form in extremely thin layers. The target reduction is about a factor 15-20. The next steps in the research are to work with larger surfaces and to collect information about the lifespan of the electrolysers made with this technique.
If you'd like to know more, please refer to the two papers, “Towards a green future”:
North Sea countries unite forces to accelerate offshore hydrogen production
Commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, TNO researched the benefits of a shared approach by the North Sea countries, and how conversion into hydrogen at sea can be used to better unlock the potential of energy from the North Sea.
Breakthrough electrolyser development: 200 times less iridium needed
Produced via electrolysis using electricity from the sun and wind, green hydrogen has a crucial role to play in the energy transition. Iridium is a scarce material that is presently essential to electrolysers working with the commonly used Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) technology.
We have developed a technology to produce hydrogen cleanly: methane pyrolysis. This is how we make hydrogen without CO2 emissions.
Energy transition growing cooperation between government and industry
Industry needs to go green more quickly. While it’s true that this sector has succeeded in significantly reducing its CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2020 with at least 25%, in absolute numbers those emissions still represent tens of megatons per year. In the Climate Agreement, government and industry have agreed to further reduce emissions. As an innovation and knowledge partner, TNO supports ministries, provinces, municipalities and regions in implementing effective policies. We also bring public and private parties together to implement acceleration: the radical greening of the value chains in industry.
Storage and transport of hydrogen
Hydrogen storage is essential to reduce carbon emissions. We’re developing technologies and carrying out tests on hydrogen storage and transport.