Interview with David Smyth-Boyle, Principal Corrosion Engineer at TWI

What is the role of TWI within RECYCALYSE?

Broadly speaking, TWI’s role in the project is to investigate whether electrochemical approaches  – in contrast to the hydrometallurgical methods used by project partners like  the Institute of Nonferrous Metallurgy and Purest Materials (INEMET) at the Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg (TUF)– can be used to recycle Platinum Group Metals catalyst materials.

More specifically, we aim to use a non-conventional etching process called ‘cathodic corrosion’, to either reactivate catalysts on ‘dead’ electrodes or selectively remove catalysts from spent electrodes. For both cases, re-processed catalysts will be passed to project partners for re-use and performance evaluation.

If the concept is successful within RECYCALYSE, there may be potential to extend the useful working lifetime of electrodes (anodes) in proton exchange membrane electrolysers. This obviously would be beneficial to the end-user, but would also decrease the environmental footprint of the electrolyser technology, due to, for example. the need for fewer replacement electrodes.

What are the main challenges for the company?

The main challenges are not uniquely technical, despite the speculative nature of the electrochemical work. In fact, the most significant challenge for us is trying to work around all the multiple barriers and restrictions posed by COVID-19 since March 2020.

Working in a ‘home office’ is not ideal, because this work is very much ‘hands-on’, requiring the co-operative efforts of several staff in different teams to progress the work together, slowly and iteratively. Hopefully during 2021, life in the UK will return to (the new) normal and TWI can make a useful contribution to the RECYCALYSE project.