As much of Europe prepares for a rapid green energy transition as part of the region's Covid-19 recovery strategy, Germany, in particular, could be the gamechanger that makes widespread adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in Europe a reality, says the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC).
It reports that Germany has set itself the target of becoming climate neutral by mid-century and notes that the country is leading the way with its recently announced national hydrogen strategy.
The strategy forms part of the German government’s post Covid-19 economic stimulus package and $7.84-billion has been earmarked for projects that develop hydrogen production from renewable energy sources.
It comes on the back of last year’s remarks by Peter Altmaier, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, signalling that Germany intends to become the biggest global player in hydrogen technology.
The WPIC notes that the development of hydrogen supply infrastructure, including generation capacity and distribution networks, will enable the large-scale use of FCEVs, which will also help Germany meet its decarbonisation goals.
To this end, platinum is central to proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology which, when applied to transport solutions, is expected to play a major role in accelerating the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
Fuelled by hydrogen, PEM fuel cells can be used to power a multitude of transport types from passenger cars, trucks, buses and trains to ships and aeroplanes.
“PEM FCEVs [enable] an environment-friendly form of transport, especially when fuelled by hydrogen from renewable sources.
"In a PEM fuel cell, where molecules of hydrogen and oxygen are combined to generate electricity, a platinum catalyst is used. Heat and water are the only by-products, with FCEVs producing zero tailpipe emissions,” the WPIC explains.
Meanwhile, the WPIC says Germany’s ambitions for its hydrogen economy have accelerated since its National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology, which funds research and development, began in 2006.
In 2018, the country rolled out the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel cell trains when two Coradia iLint trains, built by French company Alstom, started running on a 100 km route between the towns and cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde and Buxtehude in northern Germany.
Today, Germany has more hydrogen refuelling stations than any other European country, with 84 in active use and a further 21 under construction. This is expected to increase to 400 by 2025.
In comparison, there are only 38 active stations in the rest of Europe combined.
Industry in Germany is also getting behind the government’s plans, with research showing that the country has submitted more patents for the fuel cell sector than any other country in Europe, with 17 238 registrations.
Major German corporations, including Bosch and Daimler, are involved in significant fuel-cell-related projects.
For example, Bosch has teamed up with Powercell Sweden to bring fuel cells to the market by 2022 at the latest. In fact, Bosch estimates that 20% of all EVs worldwide will have a fuel cell powertrain by 2030.
Daimler is focusing its efforts on fuel-cell systems for heavy-duty vehicles such as trucks and buses.
Platinum in FCEVs is currently a small, but growing, demand sector for platinum, with near-term demand growth coming predominantly from the heavy-duty sector, with the potential for significant demand once fuel cell passenger cars move beyond 1% of vehicle sales a year.