A single hydrogen atom

Anglo American, through its platinum group metals (PGMs) business Anglo American Platinum, is partnering with Umicore to research and develop a ground-breaking technology that has the potential to transform the way hydrogen can be stored and used to power fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

Such technology would help avoid the need for extensive new hydrogen infrastructure and refuelling networks which currently represents one of the main barriers for more widespread adoption of hydrogen in clean, electric transport.

The joint research and development programme aims to take the process through which hydrogen is chemically bonded to a liquid (known as a liquid organic hydrogen carrier or LOHC) a step further, targeting new PGMs-based catalyst technologies that can be installed directly in FCEVs and other forms of transport.

Using a LOHC allows for hydrogen to be handled and transported in a similar way to oil or gasoline, using conventional liquid transport networks such as tankers and pipelines rather than meeting the more complex requirements of compressed gas.

READ MORE: ESTABLISHING A HYDROGEN VALLEY IN SOUTH AFRICA

This avoids the need for new and dedicated hydrogen infrastructure, thereby accelerating the adoption of hydrogen as a clean fuel for transport and other applications. With the additional new technology that Anglo American and Umicore are exploring, the unloading of hydrogen from the LOHC – called the dehydrogenation step – would take place directly in the vehicle at lower temperatures and pressures, providing a simpler and cheaper alternative to onboard storage of compressed hydrogen.

Benny Oeyen, Anglo American’s Executive Head of PGMs Market Development, says: “LOHC technology provides an attractive pathway to emission-free and cost-effective hydrogen-fuelled transport. Anglo American believes that the particular catalytic properties of PGMs can further enhance the process by streamlining the logistics, and offer a far simpler experience for consumers – combined with a similarly quick refuelling time and range as conventional petrol or diesel vehicles – while also reducing costs across the entire value chain.”

READ MORE: DECARBONISING MINE SITES

Lothar Mussmann, Umicore’s Senior Vice President New Business Incubation, said: “Umicore is a leading supplier of catalysts for Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell electric vehicles. Allowing the use of hydrogen loaded LOHC to fuel mobile applications by advanced LOHC dehydrogenation catalyst technology will help to overcome existing challenges of hydrogen infrastructure and logistics and thereby foster the wider introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles.”

Anglo American’s PGMs Market Development team works to develop and encourage new end-user applications for PGMs. These include cleaner and sustainable energy solutions; fuel cells to power electric vehicles; the production and transport of green hydrogen; technology for the absorption of ethylene to extend the shelf life of food and minimise food waste; and the development of anti-cancer therapies.