About platinum group metals

Overview

The term Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) refers to a group of precious metals known for their silver white appearance, catalytic qualities and scarcity. The PGMs - platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium – generally occur together and in poly-metallic deposits which may also include nickel, copper, chrome and gold. PGM’s are resistant to chemicals, high-temperatures, and have stable electrical properties. This has driven their adoption in a wide range of applications in products ranging from the automotive sector to jewellery and medicine. Beside this is used definition 4E (four elements), which includes 4 precious metals: platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold, but abbreviation PGM is more common.

PGMs are amongst the rarest metals on earth. Platinum is the most well-known and amongst the most valuable of the PGMs, while palladium occurs more widely and has experienced lower prices historically.

PGM reserves and resources are heavily concentrated in South Africa’s Bushveld region, Zimbabwe, and Russia. Russia accounts for about 13% and 45% of global platinum and palladium production respectively, making it the largest palladium producer. Palladium-rich deposits are found in Siberia, and the US, and as a byproduct from mines in Canada. The other PGMs occur in far smaller quantities across global PGM resources.

 

Physical properties

PGMs are generally unreactive, and platinum, iridium and osmium are the densest known metals. Platinum is 11 per cent denser than gold and about twice the weight of the same volume of silver or lead. Palladium, rhodium and ruthenium are lighter, but palladium has about the same density as silver, and has been mistaken for the metal throughout history.

Platinum and Palladium - soft, resistant to oxidation and do not corrode at high temperature. Used widely in catalysts, they are often used with PGMs and other metals.

Rhodium and Iridium are not as easy to work, but are often used as alloys. They are widely used and rhodium is a particularly good catalyst.

Ruthenium and Osmium are hard, brittle metals which are almost unworkable in metal form, with poor oxidation resistance. They are alloyed with other PGMs.

 

Source: Platinum today

Key applications for PGMs

Platinum is predominantly used as a catalyst for automotive emissions control and in a wide range of jewellery. Together these end uses account for 76% of total demand, with automotive catalysts accounting for 49%.

Palladium’s dominant end use is in catalysts in the auto sector as well and accounts for 62% of its demand, mainly in gasoline powered on road vehicles. Palladium’s next most significant end use is in electrical components (17%), specifically in multi-layered ceramic capacitors as conductive pastes and in electrical plating. Dental (8%) and jewellery (7%) are other important end uses.

Rhodium is almost entirely reliant on the auto sector, with 84% of total usage in catalysts. A small amount is used in the glass, chemicals, and electronics industries.

 

Source: Platinum today

 

Auto catalysts Fuel cells Jewellery Industrial Investment demand Everyday
Products
Clean-air legislation in the USA and Europe drove global adoption of PGM-based catalytic convertors, which are increasingly used in vehicles in China and India. More than half of all the cars on the road today, and over 90% of new vehicles are fitted with these devices.
As an important new source of energy, fuel cells generate electricity as oxygen and hydrogen combine over a catalyst. Fuel cells with platinum catalysts are increasingly being used for portable and auxiliary power units and in environmental-friendly vehicles.
China, Japan and the USA manufacture and wear more than 80% of platinum jewellery. Palladium is increasingly being used in jewellery. Ruthenium and iridium are used in jewellery alloys and rhodium is used for decorative electroplating.
PGMs are used in the production of nitric acid, dental tools, glass, petroleum, silicone, electronic components, medical equipment, sensors and specialist fabrics.
Like gold and silver, platinum is a portable store of wealth. Platinum coins and investment bars and Exchange Traded Funds provide investors with exposure to changes in the value of the price of platinum.
PGMs are used in products that we use every day such as fountain pens or razor coatings. Here is a list of some of those products in which you will find one or a number of PGMs.
  • Fountain pens
  • Glassware glaze
  • Razor coatings
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Forensic staining