This commodity guide centers on palladium, a rare metal part of the platinum group metals (PGM). We explain how palladium is mined, processed, and used in several industries around the world.
Read on to find out who discovered palladium, where it comes from, and why it is valuable.
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Why Is Palladium Valuable?
Palladium is a lustrous, silvery-white metallic element. Along with platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, osmium and iridium, it forms a group of six elements known as the platinum group metals (PGMs).
PGMs are extremely rare. According to the United State Geological Survey (USGS), the group makes up only .0005 parts per million of Earth’s crust.
The PGMs are known as superior catalysts – substances that help chemical reactions occur faster.
See current and historical palladium prices here.
What Is Palladium Used For?
Most of the industrial demand for palladium occurred after the 1970s when air quality laws required catalytic converters on automobiles.
However, other industries also depend on the supply of the rare metal.
|Palladium’s remarkable chemical properties make it integral to the production of catalytic converters. The metal can trap carbon and oxidize it before it is emitted into the air as pollution.
|Multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCC) help control the flow of current in circuits. Palladium or palladium and silver alloys are used in constructing MLCCs. Hybrid integrated circuits and plating materials also use palladium.
|Alloys of palladium with gold, silver, copper or zinc can be used to make dental inlays, crowns and bridges.
|A variety of products and industries rely on the unusual physical and chemical properties of palladium:
Ethanol fuel production
|Individuals and investment funds purchase palladium to protect their portfolios against losses from inflation and market crises. Investors purchase bullion, coins and funds that invest in the metal.
How Did the Palladium Industry Evolve?
Although palladium was discovered in the early 19th century, there were no viable commercial uses for the metal until the 20th century.
The first industrial use for palladium was in developing photographs. However, the rarity and high cost of the metal made this application impractical.
Palladium Deposits In The 1920s & 1930s
In the 1920s and 1930s, new deposits of the metal were discovered first in South Africa and later in Canada.
Soon after, the dental industry began utilizing both platinum and palladium to make alloys for crowns and bridges.
In the 1960s, new research into the catalytic properties of palladium led to the metal’s use in polyester production and fuel cracking.
Why Did Palladium Prices Rise Rapidly?
However, the implementation of stricter automobile emission standards in the 1970s caused demand for the metal to soar.
The chemical properties that enabled palladium to absorb carbon monoxide made it essential to the design of catalytic converters.
Who Discovered Palladium?
English chemist William Hyde Wollaston discovered palladium in 1803 when he mixed platinum with nitric acid and hydrochloric acid and noticed that another element was left behind.
The shiny, malleable element soon became a popular metal for jewelry production.
However, the advent of modern emission standards for automobiles transformed palladium from a luxury metal into an essential commodity for preventing pollution.
Since 1989, the primary use of palladium has been in catalytic converters for automobiles.
These tube-like structures trap harmful emissions that occur when an engine burns fuel.
What Are the Characteristics of Palladium?
Although PGM metals are known for their high melting point and high density, palladium has the lowest melting point and density in the PGM group.
Like the other metals in this group, palladium is a noble metal, which means oxygen does not rust or corrode it.
In addition, acids can’t penetrate or damage the metal.
What Are Common Uses Of Palladium?
All of these properties, along with its shiny, lustrous appearance make palladium ideal for jewelry.
However, its lower density has made it less desirable than platinum in high-end jewelry production.
One of the most extraordinary characteristics of palladium is its abnormal ability to absorb hydrogen. In fact, palladium can absorb a volume of hydrogen equal to 900 times its own volume.
This property makes the palladium element valuable in the fuel cell and nuclear industries.
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Palladium Production Explained
Palladium is extracted from ore bodies in mines that contain other PGMs.
How Is Palladium Mined?
Miners generally extract PGMs from placer deposits, which are naturally occurring concentrations of heavy minerals.
These deposits accumulate as a result of the effects of gravity on moving particles. These placer deposits are found in rocks such as dunite, chromite, and norite.
Palladium production often takes place as a by-product of producing other metals. For example, in the Russian Norilsk and Canadian Sudbury deposits, miners extract palladium and other PGMs as a by-product of nickel and copper.
However, the Bushveld Complex in South Africa has such large quantities of PGMs that mining them on their own is economically viable. In fact, this region contains more than 90% of the world’s proven reserves of PGMs.
How Is Palladium Processed?
After PGM ore bodies are extracted, they are processed using froth flotation techniques. Machines crush the rocks and immerse them in tanks with chemicals.
This allows the separation of the valuable PGMs from clay and other worthless rocks.
Is Palladium Recycled?
Recycling scrap metal also provides a portion of the annual supply of palladium.
According to the USGS, recyclers recover about 125,000 kilograms of platinum, palladium, and rhodium in 2017, including 56,000 kilograms from automobile catalytic converters.
Top Palladium Producing Countries
Here are the world’s biggest palladium producing nations:
|Annual Production (kilograms)
The mass fraction of a metal found in the earth’s crust is an accurate barometer of the metal’s rarity.
By this measure, PMGs, excluding platinum and osmium, are exceedingly rare:
Largest PGM Reserves By Country
PGM reserves are a measure of the quantity of economically minable metals in the ground. South Africa has more than 90% of Earth’s PGM reserves.
However, mining is an expensive endeavor, and, ultimately, the price of the metals determines whether it is feasible to mine them.
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Commodity.com has a variety of precious metal and base metal guides where we explain how these metals are produced and used. See articles on:
- How tin is processed and used
- What iron ore is processed and used for
- Gold’s value aside from being an investment instrument