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 and what factors drive the metal’s price.
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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).
In 2021, palladium prices opened just over $2,400 per ounce and experienced a series of price dips until March. Following a huge price hike thereafter, you can see where palladium prices are today.
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.
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.
|Catalytic Converters||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.|
|Electronics||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.|
|Dental Industry||Alloys of palladium with gold, silver, copper or zinc can be used to make dental inlays, crowns and bridges.|
|Miscellaneous Industrial||A variety of products and industries rely on the unusual physical and chemical properties of palladium: |
Ethanol fuel production
|Private Investors||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.
What Drives the Price of Palladium?
The supply of palladium is concentrated in a handful of countries, while the overwhelming demand comes from the automotive industry.
These are the six most important drivers of palladium prices:
- Vehicle Demand
- Russian and South African Supply
- Investment Demand
- Price of Substitutes
- Inflation and the US Dollar
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Palladium For Vehicle Production
Between a half and three-quarters of all palladium produced makes catalytic converters for automobiles. As a result, demand for vehicles plays the biggest role in determining palladium prices.
Diesel-fueled cars use platinum in catalytic converters while gasoline-fueled cars use palladium.
China, in particular, accounts for one-third of net palladium demand.
Russian and South African Palladium Supply
These two countries account for a combined 75% of the global supply of palladium. Therefore, supply bottlenecks in either of these nations can have a huge impact on prices.
The Russian company, Nornickel, is the world’s largest supplier of palladium. Political sanctions, new mining regulations, and export restrictions are just some of the many factors that could impact the supply of palladium coming from Russia.
South Africa supplies nearly as much palladium as Russia. In the past, interruptions to electricity supply and high fuel and construction costs have led to supply disruptions and higher prices.
Palladium Investment Demand
Investors can purchase ETFs, bullion, and other financial products to gain exposure to the metal. This year has seen record palladium price highs nearing the $3,000 per ounce mark.
However, the palladium market has been characterized by thin liquidity and large price swings. As large investors enter or exit this market, traders should expect wild price swings.
Alternative Metals In Industry
As prices for the various PGMs rise and fall, industrial users in the automotive sector could alter their demand for these metals.
Both platinum and rhodium can be used in catalytic converters. If the price of these metals becomes less expensive relative to palladium, then manufacturers could substitute them in production.
On the other hand, if palladium prices drop, then its demand should increase.
Diesel catalytic converters can use between 25 and 50% palladium. If prices for palladium become depressed, then new demand could come from the diesel sector.
Inflation and the US Dollar
Investing in palladium is one way to protect against the loss of purchasing power from inflation and a weak US dollar.
Palladium is priced in US dollar and usually exhibits a strong inverse correlation with the dollar. In other words, as the dollar weakens, palladium prices tend to rise.
Buyers purchasing palladium in other currencies have more purchasing power when the dollar is weak and less when the dollar is strong.
Palladium is also a precious metal and, therefore, viewed as an investment. In times of currency devaluation and inflation, investors often turn to precious metals as reliable stores of value.
Future Palladium Recycling
The amount of palladium recycled can have an effect on prices.
Most recycling comes from catalytic converters in automobiles. However, the value of palladium in a vehicle pales in comparison to the value of steel.
Therefore, higher steel prices could encourage vehicle recycling and lead to greater palladium recycling. Of course, greater supplies of recycled palladium mean lower prices for the metal.
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:
|Rank||Flag||Country||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.
Where Can I Trade Palladium?
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CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. <b>Between 74%-89% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs.</b> You should consider whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
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