The transition towards renewable energy and decarbonisation of the economy requires the scaling up of technological solutions, which are often mineral-intensive. To ensure the sustainability and efficiency of the supply chains, a circular economy approach is being emphasized. The circular economy aims to maximize the reuse of materials, reduce waste, and manage the impacts of resource consumption to deliver sustainable outcomes.
Platinum is a critical metal for the energy transition, given its use in hydrogen fuel cells and proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers. The metal is already recycled, with around 25% of the platinum supply coming from recycled autocatalysts and jewellery. The autocatalyst recycling industry has a high collection rate of end-of-life catalysts, with over 90% of the platinum group metals in a used autocatalyst being recovered.
Recent developments demonstrate how the circularity approach is being considered in new hydrogen fuel cells and PEM electrolyser production. Metal recovery and recycling plans are being built into the value chain from design and production to installation and maintenance. For instance, Johnson Matthey is collaborating with Sinopec in China to explore the possibilities of green and blue hydrogen, fuel cells, and decarbonization technologies in the circular economy. BASF and Heraeus are collaborating to improve resource utilization for high-tech and other companies that use precious metals. The collaboration aims to enable a circular economy solution through the recycling of spent catalysts.
Heraeus's work in Europe highlights the challenges involved in recycling scarce raw materials like iridium and platinum in PEM electrolysis. Recycling these materials requires specialized technologies to achieve the highest possible recovery. However, Heraeus's work demonstrates how the circular economy can give existing end-users and those developing new technologies reassurance about the long-term sustainability and security of platinum availability.
In addition, circularity contributes towards producers' own efforts to improve sustainability and lower environmental impact. The circular economy approach is becoming increasingly important, as the world seeks to meet its climate goals and achieve sustainable development.