Every second Wednesday, the Circular Industries Talks are organised at the Circular Industries Hub. On Wednesday December 9, Martijn van der Star presented at the Circular Industries Talks. Martijn is an alumni student of the MSc Industrial Ecology and works as Consultant Energy Transition at Ekinetix. In his talk, he discussed material requirements for water electrolysers in the Netherlands in 2020-2050.
Material requirements for water electrolysers in the Netherlands 2020-2050
A rapid and radical shift from fossil-based to renewable-based energy sources is essential to limit irreversible damage to natural ecosystems. Renewable hydrogen is attributed a key role within future energy systems. As hydrogen does not occur in a pure form naturally, it must be produced. Water electrolysis – the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen with electricity – is a promising route for large-scale renewable hydrogen production. The required industrial plants, water electrolysers (WEs), are thus a key technology for a successful energy transition.
Understanding the future material demand is essential to guide further strategic policy decisions within the innovation process of water electrolysers.
Currently, the installed capacity of WEs is negligible. Therefore, the annual construction of new water electrolysers needs to be scaled up by multiple orders of magnitude in a short time. This rapid scale-up will trigger a strong increase in material consumption. Thus, possible constraints to the material supply should timely be identified. Material use is particularly important for clean energy technologies, because they are more material intensive than their fossil counterparts.
Understanding the future material demand is essential to guide further strategic policy decisions within the WE innovation process. Moreover, more responsible use of natural resources calls for assessing the potential of material recovery and secondary use. Thus, concerns whether WEs can be scaled up in an environmentally and social sustainable manner should be addressed. To date, there was however no study that investigates the overall material demands for WEs over time within a geographical context, nor on a global level.
Therefore, this talk evolved around the annual total material requirements for all water electrolyser stacks of alkaline (AWE) and proton exchange membrane (PEMWE or PEM for short) technologies, using dynamic material flow analysis.
- Water electrolysers need to be scaled up by several orders of magnitude in the coming decades to deliver the future demand for renewable hydrogen.
- It appears possible to satisfy the hydrogen demand by 2050, when using large shares of AWE technology.
- Material availability only allows current AWE to be scaled up to the 2050 demand. PEM might however run into material constraints in iridium, platinum, ruthenium, and titanium.
- The future nickel demand for AWE requires close monitoring, related to its rising demand for batteries.
- In order to allow PEM to occupy substantial market shares, substantial reduction of its CRMs intensities are prerequisite.
- Identified improvement directions are improved production processes and highly efficient material recovery, enabling closed-loop recycling.
- The PEM dependence on platinum group materials (PGMs) creates economic and political dependencies on main producer South Africa and indirectly China.
- Governments should accelerate innovations in production and performance and foster the full potential of closed-loop recycling.
Water electrolysers for renewable hydrogen production will undergo a major upscaling in the coming decade. This presentation discusses the required amounts of materials for the core part of the electrolyser, the stack. It discusses the substantial amounts of critical raw materials needed and proposes strategies for innovation in design, production, closed-loop recovery. It finds that electrolysis-based renewable hydrogen production is feasible when using alkaline water electrolysers, though PEM electrolysers require innovations to prevent materials from becoming a roadblock.
Martijn van der Star combined the master programmes Applied Physics (Delft, finished 2019) and Industrial Ecology (Leiden/Delft, finished 2022) and graduated on the topic Material Requirements for Water Electrolysers 2020-2050. He is now active as a consultant in energy transition at advisory and engineering firm Ekinetix.
Curious about Martijn van der Star's talk?
The Circular Industries talks
The goal of the Circular Industries talks is to share knowledge across Leiden, Delft and Erasmus and to complement and deepen the knowledge already available within the Circular Industries Hub. The talks are organized on Wednesday morning from 10:00 to 11:00. The talks are online (Microsoft Teams). Next up in the CI Talks: Circular Industries Talks Xmas Edition: Ester van der Voet & Christoph Helbig (December 21)