However the report, Sufficiency, Sustainability, and Circularity of Critical Materials for Clean Hydrogen, warns the deployment of hydrogen is taking place in the context of a wider low-carbon transition, raising price and supply implications.
The availability of precious metals, in particular, and other critical raw materials has increasingly been subject of concern considering the need for scaling up decarbonisation solutions.
The largest absolute demand for critical raw materials, including aluminium, zinc, copper and nickel, comes from the build out of the necessary renewable energy generation capacity (i.e., wind, solar and battery technologies) and there will be pressure on all solution providers to reduce their mineral intensity, the report states.
While the global water footprint of the sector is likely to be much smaller than some other renewable alternatives, such as biofuels, the report notes there may be challenges in sourcing water, especially as it relates to the high-quality water required for use in electrolysers.
Annual water demand is set to soar in China to 2050, followed by ‘rest of the world’, EU and North America, while Australia is forecast to be among the most sustainable nations by yearly demand.
Renewable hydrogen water demand is set to overtake low-carbon demand around 2046, the report forecasts.
The report also looks at the environmental impacts – greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water footprint – from sourcing the materials needed for clean hydrogen production and consumption.
Key materials in the renewable pathway include aluminium, copper, zinc and nickel for wind turbines and solar PV panels; platinum, iridium, titanium and copper for PEMEL electrolysers; and copper, nickel and graphite for AEL electrolysers.
While at a macro-scale the overall climate and water footprints are likely to be small compared to other sectors, in order for clean hydrogen to play its full role in tackling climate change they must still be minimised by adopting sustainable practices and policies.
Key among these are the increased use of recycled materials, innovations in design in order to reduce material intensities, and adoption of policies from the World Bank’s Climate-Smart Mining Framework.
Tom Linebarger, Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Cummins and Co-Chair of the Hydrogen Council, said, “A close collaboration between the hydrogen and mining sectors will be needed to maintain the supply chain and ultimately ensure a successful transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Yoshinori Kanehana, Chairman of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Co-Chair of the Hydrogen Council, said, “The future pressure on raw materials caused by hydrogen technologies, while not critical on its own merits, needs to be considered in the context of the overall future demand for these materials. Innovation will continue to reduce the material intensity of hydrogen technologies.”
Demetrios Papathanasiou, World Bank Global Director for Energy and Extractives, said its report is another “arrow in our quiver” to chart a sustainable path for producing materials critical to scaling up clean hydrogen and achieving the global energy transition.
For the study, the Hydrogen Council industry participants contributed insight into material consumption and opportunities for thrifting (reduction of usage). The mining industry participants contributed their insights into global reserves and enhancing recovery technologies.
The report’s model was built on previous publications of the World Bank’s Climate-Smart Mining Initiative, which was established five years ago with an eye towards helping resource-rich developing countries benefit from the increasing demand for minerals and metals associated with the energy transition, while ensuring the mining sector is managed in a way that minimises its environmental and climate footprint.
Alastair Judge, Johnson Matthey’s Chief Executive for Platinum Group Metal Services said platinum group metals (PGMs) are key components of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and PEM electrolyser technology to produce green hydrogen.
He said, “The report rightly concludes that platinum is a well-supplied metal with established mined and recycled supply that is ready for this major new market, but it also highlights the lack of understanding regarding the iridium market – particularly as PEM electrolyser technology is rapidly developing.
“The demand for platinum in the jewellery market is in decline and, in the longer term, the auto catalyst market will decline as the world moves away from fossil fuels. Together, these markets account for more than 50% of all platinum used today, meaning hydrogen technologies will be an important replacement demand for the future.”
He added that knowledge of the iridium market is not as developed, particularly in the rapidly evolving area of PEM electrolysis, which can make it difficult to project future requirements for the metal, as is the case in this report.
Even using as little as 1.5 tonnes of iridium per year (around 20% of primary supply), PEM electrolysis technology has the potential to achieve more than 100 GW of green hydrogen capacity by 2030, >500 GW by 2040 and >1500 GW by 2050.
“We know that through thrifting and recycling, there will be sufficient iridium supply to support the required ramp-up in hydrogen demand,” he said.