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By far the largest use of palladium today is for automobile catalytic converters. Based upon some estimates the 450 million automobiles in the world today is projected to more than double in the next 30 years requiring a growing use of palladium. And, while some forecasters suggest palladium recycled from scraped automobiles will become a large factor in the supply/demand price equation for palladium in coming years, other factors will mitigate these projections.
First, as mentioned, the growth in the number of cars in the world is expected to continue unabated with an increasing number of cars each year, each required to meet increasing environmental standards. Second, many of the cars reaching the end of their useful life in developed countries of the world are increasingly finding their way to less developed countries as used cars. Some used cars simply gravitate there; others are even being refurbished and then freighted.
This will delay and may eliminate the recovery of metals in many of these cars. Working against some of these gains will be increasing fuel economy and improved engine and catalytic technology, both of which will reduce the level of PGM consumption in cars.
Diesel engines operate at lower temperatures than gasoline engines and, to date, platinum is better suited as a catalyst in converting CO, NOx and hydrocarbons to harmless emissions at the lower temperatures. However, when it comes to reducing or eliminating DPM, which is essentially carbon, temperatures must be increased in order for the carbon to be oxidized before being exhausted. At the higher temperatures palladium may be important, as it not only reacts well at higher temperatures, but it can tolerate higher temperatures better than platinum. Further, with palladium currently at a steep discount to platinum there is an economic incentive to develop technology using palladium.
In this regard, a large European automobile manufacturer recently mandated a research and development effort to examine and advance palladium-based technology for diesel catalytic converters. The reason is apparent. In Europe, 44 percent of the cars built in 2003 were equipped with diesel engines and recent CAFÉ (fuel economy) standards announced by China, will ultimately result in a similar percentage of cars built by China’s surging car industry to be diesel. Thus, a growing concern over insufficient supplies of platinum to meet this growing diesel demand, placing urgency in finding a way to use palladium for this application.
One remaining obstacle to perfecting this palladium technology is the sulfur content of diesel fuel. Sulfur tends to collect on palladium more than on platinum. And at higher temperatures the sulfur tends to generate sulfates that are then exhausted. Sulfur will be sharply reduced in diesel fuel in the U.S. in 2006 enhancing the opportunity for palladium technology for cleaning diesel emissions. Knowing this, Stillwater Mining Company is currently having a palladium catalytic converter and DPM filter fabricated using palladium to test with low sulfur fuel in our mine operations.
Platinum and palladium processes for producing photographic prints have been known since the mid 1800s and the early days of photography. As a process descended from the Cyanotype, it was known as Platinotype. Both metals are still used as an alternative process today in producing archival and museum suitable prints. In this form, palladium and platinum are very nearly interchangeable.
In the late 1800s, palladium was more expensive than platinum, and so saw less use in the printing process, but seemed to be viewed as a finer alternative. The book Platinotype by Captain Pizzighelli and Baron Von Hubl was released in 1886, translated by J.F. Iselin, MA. and edited by W. DE W. The forward:
“The growing popularity of the Platinotype process has induced the Council of the Photographic Society of Great Britain to authorize a reprint of the translation of the brochure by Captain Pizzighelli and Baron Von Hubl, which appeared in the Photographic Journal in 1883”
- W. DE W. Abney
Palladium prints produced warmer tones than platinum, which some preferred, and a heated developer was not required. Nevertheless, palladium printing did not see widespread use until 1910s. Both platinum and palladium prints have the reputation of being permanent due to the stability of the metal that constitutes the final image. In 1917 William Willis introduced his Palladiotype paper, the first commercially available palladium based photographic paper. In the 1930s, the Platinotype declined in favor of the mass production of gelatin silver papers and steep rise in the price of platinum, which had then become a strategic metal vital in the defense industry. A number of photographers continued to use the process, however.
Although platinum was again obtainable after World War I, its price remained extremely high. The war thus also stimulated experimentation with palladium photography. Some rather renowned photographers used the process. Alfred Stieglitz, printed mostly on platinum and palladium papers. Platinum was also preferred by his young protégés Paul Strand and Clarence White. Edward Weston used platinum and palladium papers throughout his early, greatest period; Edward S. Curtis, Irving Penn, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and most of the greats in the history of photography have all produced perfect, beautiful images in platinum or palladium.
After the Second World War, commercially available platinum paper was no longer available, forcing photographers to hand coat their paper, and eroding its popularity.
In the 1970s, the Platinotype saw renewed interest as a beautiful art medium more permanent than the commercially available silver based papers. Palladium differs from platinum to produce a slightly more “warm” image, with a bit more contrast. Some photographers learned to mix platinum and palladium together in varying proportions, to achieve even finer results than with either substance used alone. Today platinum and palladium prints are widely considered the princes of the photographic medium, and the greatest expressions of fine art photography.
Palladium is a precious metal that has good characteristics for coinage, but its use in general circulation coins has been very limited. Curiously, one of the earliest coin uses of native platinum (before palladium was identified and separated from the naturally-occurring metal) was in the Spanish colonies of South America, where it was used to make counterfeit gold coins. The bogus coins were struck in native platinum, sometimes within the same mint where the legitimate gold coins were pressed, then they were gilded with gold, and passed off as pure gold.
In 1967, the South Pacific island nation of Tonga issued some palladium general circulation coins commemorating the coronation of King Taufa Ahau Tupou IV, perhaps the first issue using palladium. From 1987 to 1990, Portugal began issuing palladium proof coins as part of a series with other metals. Also in 1987, the Isle of Man, an island kingdom in the Irish Sea, issued a palladium coin in commeroration of the bicentennial of the United States’ Constitution and featuring Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and and on the reverse are 11 U.S. presidents encircling the Statue of Liberty.
From 1989 to 1995, Russia made some limited palladium bullion issues, known as the ballerina series because the obverse would typically feature a ballerina striking a pose.
China struck its first palladium Pandas in 1989, but none have been produced since then until this year, when they minted 8,000 100 Yuan palladium coins featuring the lovely kissing pandas.
Australia produced some palladium bullion coins in an “Emu” series from 1995 to 1997. Four different mintings were done with variations on the Emu, a flightless bird, for each. The coins, both proof and bullion, are one troy ounce of 99.95% pure palladium with a face value $A40. The first limited bullion version sold 10 percent over the prevailing palladium price. Australia marketed the first proof or collector version at $A350 - the number of proofs minted 2,500. The Perth Mint suspended the Emu series when the price of palladium doubled in 1998.
New Slovakian Issue
On May 1st 2004, the largest expansion of the European Union in its history took place and the 15 member countries were joined by 10 new ones – Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. On May 3, 2004, the Republic of Slovak issued a pentagon shaped coin commemorating the occasion. Minted in palladium with selective plating of gold, 7,200 proof coins were struck, 40mm in size and weighing 24.8828 g, with a face value of 10,000Sk.
New Lewis & Clark Bullion Issue
Today, Northwest Territorial Mint is producing .9995 palladium bullion in rounds and bars commemorating the 1804 start of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The reverse features a Montana buffalo, and an annual change to another Montana state animal is planned. These coins are minted out of palladium from Stillwater Mining and refined by Johnson Matthey.
Palladium is also available for minting of custom coins from the same .9995 palladium as the Lewis & Clark bullion, resulting in a coin that is whiter than platinum, more precious than silver and unlike silver, free of tarnishing in air. As an active minter of palladium proof coins for bullion trading, Northwest Territorial Mint has developed techniques to handle this beautiful metal well. Custom palladium coins and medallions can now be minted, producing a coin of high value, beauty and luster. For more information about minting custom palladium coins, please see Northwest Territorial Mint.
With the fall in palladium prices and the rise in platinum prices palladium’s cost-effectiveness in chemical applications has become apparent. Various chemical applications use palladium, including the manufacture of paints, adhesives, fibers and coatings. Palladium is used in the production of purified terephthalic acid, which is a precursor to polyesters and to polyethylene terephthalate a plastic resin used in packaging of film and glass laminates.
PGM catalysts for nitric acid production take the form of a gauze made out of fine wire. Palladium is used in the production of catchment gauze used in the making of nitric acid for the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizers.
When nitric acid was first produced commercially in 1904, a platinum-only catalyst was used. Rhodium was later added for strength and to reduce the amount of platinum lost during conversion of the gas. Palladium-based “catchment” or “getter” gauze was introduced in 1968 to further reduce losses of platinum and rhodium, which can be as high as 300 mg per ton of acid produced. The catchment sits downstream of the gas flow and collects pgm vaporized from the catalyst.
a versatile product for improving lives in many ways
Whether as an engineering plastic, a substitute metal or the fibres in carpets, clothing and other materials, nylon is all around us everyday in a range of applications.
The raw material for nylon is cyclohexane which owes its production from benzene and butene to palladium's unique hydrogen-absorbing qualities. A palladium membrane absorbs hydrogen atoms from butene molecules and passes them over to benzene where they react to produce cyclohexane (and leaving butadiene which is the raw material for synthetic rubber).
Antilock Braking Systems - ABS:
improved safety and control
ABS eliminate or greatly reduce the problem of brakes locking in emergency stops. With conventional brakes, the wheel may lock, possibly causing the car to go into an uncontrollable skid.
ABS uses computer technology to monitor and control the application of the brakes with hydraulic pulses of pressure which allow for braking without locking.
Due to its conductivity, durability and resitence to corrosion, palladium is used in ABS systems' electronic components.
Dentists have used gold alloys containing platinum for many decades but the use of palladium in dentistry is relatively recent.
Dating from the 1980s, a rising gold price then encouraged palladium to be introduced as a lower-cost alternative. When the price of palladium increased sharply a few years ago this trend reversed. However, at the moment the price of palladium is lower by far than either gold or platinum and consumption of palladium in dental alloys has again increased.
Palladium is usually mixed with gold or silver as well as copper and zinc in varying ratios to produce alloys suitable for dental inlays, crowns and bridges. Small amounts of ruthenium or iridium are sometimes added. The most common application is in crowns, where the alloy forms the core onto which porcelain is bonded to build up an artificial tooth. The aim of using platinum group metals in dental alloys is to provide strength, stiffness and durability whilst the other alloyed metals provide malleability.
In Japan, the government operates a specific mandate stating that all government-subsidized dental alloys have to include a palladium content of at least 20 percent. This alloy is known as the “kinpala” alloy and is used in around 90 percent of all Japanese dental treatment. Hence, Japan is the largest palladium-consuming region for dental applications, followed by North America and then Europe.
Palladium has a number of electronic applications. For example, palladium’s chemical stability and electrical conductivity make it an effective and durable alternative to gold for plating in electronic components. More about electronic uses .
Palladium is lighter than platinum having about the same density as silver, thus, palladium is a jewelry metal as well. Palladium in jewelry is primarily used as an alloy with platinum to optimize platinum’s working characteristics and wear properties. Palladium is also used as an alloy in producing white gold. More about jewelry uses.
Palladium-based alloys are actively being researched for applications in fuel cell technology, an area of future promise for the metal. More about fuel cell uses.
Palladium and other PGM metals serve important functions in catalytic reactions that are used in various stages in the refining of petroleum. More about petroleum refining.
Palladium is a unique and important catalyst being studied for use in removing a number of toxic and carcinogenic substances from groundwater. More about water treatment.
Palladium’s ability to absorb and desorb hydrogen depending on circumstances allows it to be an effective material to filter hydrogen from other gasses resulting in an ultra pure hydrogen gas. Find out more.