JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Platinum Group Metals CEO R Michael Jones does not let grass grow under his feet. His parting shot to moderator Bernard Swanepoel at the virtual 2020 PGMs Industry Day last Wednesday was that platinum was on its way into battery electric vehicles (BEVs) as a battery metal.
“If you're a great EV believer, watch out – PGMs can actually move across,” Jones said.
Five days later, his Toronto- and New York-listed company announced in an email to Mining Weekly that the US Patent and Trademark Office had issued a patent that includes the use of platinum group metals (PGMs) in a lithium battery. Not bad, Mr Jones!
"The initial patent grant is the first significant milestone towards our objectives to both capitalise on a true cutting-edge innovation and drive demand for PGMs at the same time,” Jones stated in the release.
The upshot of all this is that the world is not only now earmarking PGMs to catalyse fuel cells that drive its trucks, trains, planes and ships into the new world of clean skies and low-to-no carbon, or to produce its green hydrogen in PGM-catalysed electrolysers, but it is also watching PGMs patenting their way into BEV batteries.
Until now, EVs have been synonymous with lithium and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) with PGMs, but now the twain are meeting, with the new generation of lightweight, powerful batteries being seen as having the potential to grow to scale on the back of the attractiveness of BEVs and the use of lithium batteries in other applications beyond mobility. Being in EVs and FCEVs is a massive potential market advance for PGMs.
Waving the PGMs flag high are Lion Battery Technologies and Florida International University (FIU), which are advancing a research programme that uses platinum and palladium to unlock the potential of lithium air and lithium sulphur battery chemistries, increasing their discharge capacities and their cyclability.
In addition to PGMs, Patent No. 10,734,636 B2 entitled "Battery Cathodes for Improved Stability" includes the use of carbon nanotubes and other innovations in a lithium battery.
Lion was formed in 2019 by Platinum Group Metals, with 52%, and Anglo American Platinum, with 48%, to accelerate the development of next-generation battery technology using platinum and palladium.
Under the sponsored agreement, research and patent applications are being funded to unlock the catalytic properties of platinum and palladium in the battery chemistries.
Research is led by Dr Bilal El-Zahab, who completed post-doctoral work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a team that includes six specialist nano-materials and battery postdoctoral fellows. The team at FIU has completed the first year of research and surpassed their first technical milestone. Further patent applications have been filed, stated Platinum Group Metals, the developer of South Africa’s Waterberg project in Limpopo, a $617-million, 1 100-employee 19.5-million-ounce palladium, platinum, rhodium and gold deposit that lends itself to extremely productive bulk mechanised mining.
The company is targeting a productivity rate of 30 oz to 40 oz per employee a month by mining an orebody that has 40-m-high sub levels.
“We’ll essentially be dropping a 13-storey office building with every blast,” Jones told the PGMs Industry Day.
Work is being done with an international training organisation to develop local skills with the help of South Africa’s technical and vocational education and training colleges.
The raising of project funding is expected to take the balance of this year to assemble, helped by a partnership struck with the Japanese. The asset's new largest local shareholder is Hosken Consolidated Investments' Deepkloof empowerment arm.