DWV, the German H2 and FC Association, in a recent info mail explained that, how much exactly the fuel cell car will be able to contribute to the protection of our environment and the resources, will depend on how many of them will circulate on the streets. The following This again depends on how many consumers will be able to pay for it. Platinum has very particular electrochemical properties and plays a key role as catalyst in many chemical reactions, including those in fuel cells. There is no adequate substitute at this time. Since this noble metal is expensive (now ca. 34 €/g) it has been suspected be responsible for the still high costs for fuel cell cars. DWV thinks it is appropriate to correct a few erroneous ideas which were recently disseminated by the media. It is in the very nature of new products and processes that in the beginning they are always more expensive than the established ones. But the costs for fuel cell cars have been cut down by the car makers by several orders of magnitude within a comparatively short time. For the market introduction, which will be next year in the case of some Asian companies, the prices must be comparable to those of conventional cars. Dramatic developments could also be observed with respect to the platinum demand of fuel cell cars. In 2007 General Motors’ HydroGen4 needed up to 80 g of platinum for a power of 100 kW. The same system today would require only half of it. This means that today the catalyst material contributes between 1000 and 1500 € to the fuel cell car costs. For 2020 the limit of 15 g is expected to be reached, and for the large scale commercialization (until 2025) the objective is less than 10 g. At constant prices and if these targets are met this would mean costs of not more than 300 or 350 €. This means that it is quite simply not true that platinum is the only driver of the costs. There are many more high tech materials in a fuel cell, from membranes to bipolar plates. The prices for all of them will drop significantly only by mass production. Catalysis, however, did not wait for the fuel cell to enter the car industry. On the basis of air quality regulations all cars with combustion engines are today equipped with exhaust gas catalysts. A gasoline car with a four cylinder motor delivering 100 kW and meeting the Euro VI standard needs some 2.5 g of a palladium / rhodium catalyst. The active material costs some 50 €. The use of platinum could become necessary in the future if the regulations become stricter than today. An equivalent Diesel engine needs some 8 g of a platinum / palladium catalyst, with a platinum content of almost 7 g. This material costs about 240 €. This amount might rise as well depending on the exhaust gas regulations. Of course a fuel cell car does not emit any exhaust gases – just warm and wet waste air.

So in about ten years the platinum demand of cars with combustion engines may easily be similar to that of a fuel cell car. And palladium and rhodium are not exactly cheap either. But who knows – maybe platinum will not be a topic any more in twenty years from now. Scientists around the world are busy developing catalysts from non-noble metals or organic materials which have a performance similar to that of platinum. Significant progress has been made (DWV reports about them regularly in its members’ magazine). At this time there is no real competitor for platinum in sight, but there are indeed a few potential candidates. The first gasoline cars at the end of the 19th century were playthings for rich early adopters who did not really need them because they could afford enough horses. Similarly it would be dishonest to demand from the fuel cell car that it be a mass product from the very beginning. The costs will have to be reduced further. This will not be an easy process. But platinum will certainly not be the show stopper.