Materials for Green Hydrogen Production

IDTechEx forecasts substantial growth in the electrolyzer component sector, projecting a market value of US$31.7 billion by 2034. This expansion is attributed to the expanding green hydrogen industry, where electrolyzers are indispensable. This comprehensive IDTechEx report delves into the current and prospective materials and components utilized in the four main water electrolyzer technologies: alkaline water electrolyzer (AWE), proton exchange membrane electrolyzer (PEMEL), anion exchange membrane electrolyzer (AEMEL), and solid oxide electrolyzer (SOEC). It further offersstack costs broken down by component for the AWE, PEMEL and SOEC stacks. In addition, granular 10-year market forecasts, quantifying material and component demand intonnes, square meters (m2), and US$ million annually are presented for these three electrolyzer stacks.
The need for green hydrogen and advanced electrolyzer technologies
Global activities in the hydrogen sector have intensified, with a unified drive from governments, industries, and corporations to transition to a hydrogen economy for decarbonizing sectors that are difficult to electrify directly. Green hydrogen – produced through water electrolysis powered by renewable energy – has emerged as the frontrunner solution, propelled by governmental ambitions to establish substantial gigawatt (GW) scale electrolyzer manufacturing and green hydrogen production capacities by the end of this decade.
The pivot to green hydrogen transcends the goal of sustainable hydrogen production – it is a strategic move to decarbonize industries where electrification is not feasible, such as heavy industry (e.g. petroleum refining) and various transportation sectors (e.g. shipping). These sectors, crucial yet challenging in terms of emissions reduction, can leverage hydrogen as a potent and clean energy vector. Additionally, the integration of green hydrogen into the energy mix enhances energy security and paves the way for potential new market opportunities in the realm of energy storage and coupling of various sectors.
Source: IDTechEx
Critical role of materials and components in electrolyzers
At the heart of the green hydrogen revolution lies the evolution of materials and components within electrolyzer technologies. Advancements in this area are pivotal, aiming to boost electrolyzer efficiency, extend longevity, and mitigate reliance on scarce materials. For example, innovations in PEMEL technology, such as catalysts with reduced iridium content, could significantly alleviate supply chain vulnerabilities associated with iridium’s limited availability.
This IDTechEx report provides a comprehensive analysis of the key materials and components across the four electrolyzer technologies, emphasizing both established solutions and prospective advancements. Components analyzed include membranes, catalysts, electrodes, porous transport layers (PTL), gas diffusion layers (GDL), bipolar plates, coatings, gaskets, and end plates, offering insights into their current and future states. Manufacturing methods and potential innovations are also discussed. Furthermore, the report includes extensive lists of stack, material and component suppliers and provides commercial case studies of materials and components.
The focus of this report is on the cell to stack level of electrolyzers. Source: IDTechEx
Alkaline water electrolyzer (AWE) – utilization of widely available materials
The AWE is a mature and established technology. It operates using a liquid alkaline solution (typically KOH) and a porous diaphragm to segregate the half-cell chambers. Its reliance on accessible materials like nickel and stainless steel is a stable trend, which is anticipated to persist. Currently, AWE systems vary between finite-gap and zero-gap configurations, but the industry is gravitating towards the latter, which incorporates porous transport layers (PTLs) for improved efficiency.
AWE manufacturers exhibit diverse designs that are dependent on the operational mode (atmospheric versus pressurized) and cell architecture. This report provides an in-depth examination of material choices and the architectural evolution of the AWE stack, showcasing examples of cutting-edge stacks. It also highlights key innovation priorities and improvements that could be made in existing components. While many AWE have brought stack production in-house, they still depend on external suppliers for numerous components, revealing substantial opportunities for innovation in catalysts and cell configurations within this established technology.
Proton exchange membrane electrolyzer (PEMEL) – management of scarce materials
PEMEL technology has risen in popularity due to its superior efficiency, compact stack size, and flexible operational capabilities, making it ideal for pairing with intermittent renewable energy sources. Despite a trend towards standardization of materials in PEMEL stacks, ongoing innovations continue, especially in anode catalyst development. New catalysts demonstrate comparable catalytic activity with less iridium usage, hence decreasing the materials loading in g/kW, leading to cost reductions.
The report examines various material choices and innovations within PEMEL stacks, from advancements in proton exchange membrane thinning to innovative titanium bipolar plate coating technologies. It details advanced commercial PEMEL designs and key priorities for innovation. Overall, significant enhancements in PEMEL stacks are achievable through novel bipolar plate materials and coatings for the catalyst-coated membrane (CCM), for example.
Anion exchange membrane electrolyzer (AEMEL) – pursuit of high stability
The AEMEL is a newer, up-and-coming technology seeking to combine AWE’s abundant materials with the high efficiency of PEMEL stacks. Rapid advancements in the field are evident, with companies like Enapter leading the way in commercial MW-scale systems. The report indicates various material developments, with academic and commercial entities focusing on membranes and catalysts, given the standardization of other components derived from AWE or PEMEL technologies. As a nascent technology, AEMEL has the unique advantage of integrating lessons from AWE and PEMEL, positioning it for innovation.
Solid oxide electrolyzer (SOEC) – high-temperature ceramic innovation
The SOEC, although newer and with fewer market participants than AWE and PEMEL, is benefiting from cross-innovation in the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) space since SOFC stacks can be operated reversibly and use very similar materials to SOEC. Certain ceramic cell components are well-established due to their application in SOFCs. However, electrode-electrolyte assemblies present an active frontier for development, with significant variations in cell design and materials among stack providers. The report delves into these nuances, exploring the various cell designs. These range from metal- to electrode-supported and utilize diverse ceramic materials, highlighting the potential for material innovation in this high-temperature electrolyzer technology.
Granular 10-year market forecasts segmented by materials and components for AWE, PEMEL & SOEC
To identify the expanding prospects of the materials and components sector in the water electrolyzer industry, IDTechEx offers granular 10-year market forecasts. These projections are segmented by raw materials – such as stainless steel, titanium, and platinum group metals – and by components, including membranes and bipolar plates, across AWE, PEMEL, and SOEC electrolyzer technologies. Quantitative forecasts are provided in terms of tonnes, square meters (m²), and US$ million on an annual basis. Additionally, the report provides a cost analysis of AWE, PEMEL, and SOEC stacks, breaking down the costs associated with each component.