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Background on Platinum Group Metals

Understanding the Opportunities

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Platinum Group Metals: Issues and Opportunities

Platinum Group Metals: Issues and Opportunities

Thintri, Inc. announces the release of Platinum Group Metals: Issues and Opportunities, a new market study that surveys current market conditions in platinum group metals (PGMs), and analyzes emerging demand, supply constraints and price volatility. The report also explores opportunities generated by new techniques of PGM recovery from previously-unused resources, and opportunities created by development of new, much less costly substitutes.

The report separates hype from reality and assesses the dramatically changing landscape facing PGM users and suppliers. Forecasts are supplied for demand and prices under current conditions going out to 2020, as well as an analysis of the effects of new technologies for PGM replacement and recovery.

Background on PGMs

Sourcing and Suppliers


  • Automotive and
  • Transportation
  • Electronics/Electrical
  • Medical/Dental
  • Industrial and Scientific
  • Jewelry, Investment and Coinage

The Supply Side

  • “Peak Metals”
  • Supply Threats
  • Response to Shortages
  • Political Issues
  • Long-Term Solutions

The Demand Side

  • The Automotive Demand Driver
  • The Jewelry and Investment Demand Drivers
  • The Petroleum Demand Driver
  • Industrial Demand Drivers
  • Medical/Biomedical/Dental Demand Drivers
  • Other Demand Drivers
    • PGM Demand by element
    • Platinum
    • Palladium
    • Rhodium
    • Iridium
    • Ruthenium
    • Osmium
  • Effects of Alternative Energy Schemes

Price Trends

  • PGM Replacement
  • Precious Metals and Reduced-PGM
  • PGM-Free and Reduced PGM Autocatalysts
  • Alternatives Based on Conventional Chemistry
  • Alternatives Based on Nanotechnology
  • Electrolysis Catalyst Alternatives
  • Impact of Alternatives on PGM Demand and Price

Scrap and Recovery

  • Improved Recycling Schemes
  • Slag and Mine Waste

Background on Platinum Group Metals

Platinum group metals (PGMs), namely platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, ruthenium and osmium, are rare, expensive and critical to today’s economy. Up to now, there have been no other materials that can duplicate their performance in fundamental applications. Those applications include autocatalysts, the critical components in the catalytic converters found in most vehicles that reduce harmful emission; catalysts used in a broad range of industrial processes, including petroleum refining; high-temperature processing of abrasive materials such as glass; disc drives and electronic components; medical and dental implants and devices; and electrochemistry. Of course, PGMs are also highly prized in jewelry and investment.

Prices of PGMs are high and notoriously volatile. Rhodium, for example, went from slightly over $6,000 per ounce in mid-2007, to $10,000 per ounce in mid-2008 and then crashed to a little above $1,000 before the end of that year. While this degree of fluctuation is exceptional, it’s emblematic of the behavior of critical materials in limited supply, tied to broader economic forces like auto sales.

At this time, the limits of supply are becoming clear. Like most natural resources, PGM supplies are inherently limited. Concerns about “peak metals,” the idea that availability has peaked for limited resources and future production will be reduced and/or more costly (which has already occurred for a number of important minerals), will soon be an important influence with PGMs. Already, Russia, the largest palladium producer, has announced that its supplies of palladium are dwindling.

Tightening of supplies comes at a time of accelerating demand. Growth of auto sales and industrialization in the developing world, particularly Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC countries), as well as interest in PGM jewelry and investment by newly-prosperous populations, will place significant stress on available supplies. In addition, tightening environmental restrictions are forcing the use of more PGMs per vehicle to meet emissions rules. Also, building of new oil refineries and industrial growth in a recovering economy will put further stress on supplies. Other demand drivers like medical and petroleum, which are functions of aging populations and global economic shifts, will place stress on PGM supplies as well.

Analyses indicate that presently-known platinum reserves are sufficient for another 360 years at present rates of production and consumption. However, that estimate drops to 15 years if growing demand, particularly from growing industrialization and automobile sales in the developing world, is taken into account.

With demand growth, inelasticity of supply will force up prices in this decade dramatically.

The response to scarcity will no doubt include reduction in PGM consumption through “thrifting,” i.e, the devising of ways to use less PGMs in established applications (which has been underway for decades). Also, rising prices will mean that deposits with lower PGM content such as those in Australia, which had been too costly to exploit in the past, will now be profitably mined, to some degree mitigating that price increase.

The most significant consequences, however, will be the development of high performance, low cost alternatives, and in improved recycling and recovery.

Alternatives are sometimes as simple as substituting a less expensive PGM, such as palladium, for a more expensive one, such as platinum. The more significant alternatives use nanotechnology with inexpensive materials such as nickel, to fine tune the properties of nanoparticles by controlling parameters such as diameter. Inexpensive nanomaterials can substitute for PGMs in some of the most important markets, such as catalysts in the automotive and industrial markets. PGM usage in some applications, such as jewelry and electronics, is relatively immune from substitution, but most applications are vulnerable.

Recycling will become more important as PGM prices rise. Newly available technologies are able to dramatically improve the amount of PGMs that can be captured from recycled products such as catalytic converters.

Other recently developed processes are able to extract significant quantities of PGMs from mine waste that contains much higher PGM concentrations than the best quality ores. Mountains of slag and mine waste in North America and worldwide contain enough PGMs to significantly impact the supply/demand/price picture for PGMs once exploited.

Alternatives that can capture markets directly from PGMs, and new technologies that can dramatically improve PGM recovery from recycled materials and mine waste, are already commercially available or very near commercialization and will exert a growing influence on markets now owned by PGMs and PGM prices and availability.

The confluence of growing demand, limited and/or dwindling supplies, and growing availability of alternatives and new supplies will likely create a period of extraordinary volatility before things stabilize. Most of this decade will witness the transition of established PGM markets as prices rise and users adjust to new conditions, while others take advantage of the new opportunities presented.             

Understand the Opportunities

Platinum group metals are at an extraordinary intersection of market forces. Their rarity and expense has largely confined them to a limited set of markets. Those markets, in turn, are largely dependent on PGMs simply because there have been no viable, and cheaper, alternatives. The inelasticity of supply has led to occasionally extreme volatility in the past. Today, growing demand, fueled by a range of factors that include accelerating motor vehicle sales around the world, a rising industrial sector in many regions and a growing consumer preference for white metals in jewelry, while supplies are relatively fixed and in some cases declining, threatens to put PGMs in an even more volatile situation. As demand exceeds the available supplies, prices can be expected to rise significantly.

The Thintri market study, Platinum Group Metals: Issues and Opportunities, relies on in-depth interviews with industry executives, market development managers and government and academic researchers. The report provides a survey of the current state of the PGM markets, an assessment of viable alternatives and recovery schemes, and discussion of the effects of growing demand on availability and prices, and the effects on those prices of PGM replacement technologies and improved recovery methods.


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Report Table of Contents:

Executive Summary: Platinum Group Metals 1

E.1    Introduction   1
E.2    Applications   1
E.3    Supply, Demand and Price Issues   2
   Figure E-1    Source Countries of PGMs    2
   Figure E-2    Platinum Demand Forecast, Autocatalysts    4
   Figure E-3    Palladium Price Forecast    4
E.4    PGM Replacement and Improved Recovery Methods    4
   Figure E-4    Total Rhodium Displaced by Alternatives    6
   Figure E-5    Resulting Rhodium Price, After Alternatives    6

Part 1 Background    7

1.1    Introduction    7
   Table 1-1    Platinum Group Metals and Characteristics    7
   Figure 1-1    Periodic Table of the Elements with PGMs Highlighted    8
   Table 1-2    PGM Prices, February, 2012    9
1.2 The Elements    10

1.2.1    Platinum    10
1.2.2    Palladium    11
1.2.3    Rhodium    12
1.2.4    Iridium    12
1.2.5    Ruthenium    13
1.2.6    Osmium    13

1.3    Sourcing       14

1.3.1    Extraction    14
1.3.2    Major Producers    14

Part 2 Applications    16

2.1    Electronic components    16
2.2    Medical & Dental    17
2.3    Industrial and Scientific    19

2.3.1    General Industrial    19
2.3.2    Glass Manufacture    20
2.3.3    Scientific    21

2.4    Automotive: Spark Plugs and Sensors    22
2.5    Jewelry    23
2.6    Investment and Coinage    24
2.7    Catalysts    25

2.7.1    Catalysts: Industrial    25
2.7.2    Catalysts: Petroleum    27
2.7.3    Catalysts: Automotive    27
2.7.4    Catalysts: Fuel Cells    31
   Figure 2-1    PEMFC Fuel Cell Operation    32

Part 3 The Supply Side: Supplies, Peak Metals & Scarcity    36

3.1    Today’s PGM Sources    36
   Figure 3-1    PGM Production by Country    36
   Figure 3-2    Platinum Production by Country    37
   Figure 3-3    Palladium Production by Country    37
   Figure 3-4    Other PGM Production by Country    38
3.2    Peak Metals & Scarcity    38
   Table 3-1    Minerals That Have Already Peaked    39
3.3    Response to Shortages    40
3.4    Lessons from the 1970s Cobalt Crisis    41
3.5    Today’s Supply Threats: Palladium    42
3.6    Political Issues    43
3.7    Long-Term Solutions: Near-Earth Asteroid Mining    44

Part 4 The Demand Side: Market Growth and Price Trends    46

4.1    Introduction    46
4.2    The Automotive Demand Driver    46
   Figure 4-1    Platinum Demand by Region,Autocatalysts, 2012    49
   Figure 4-2    Palladium Demand by Region, Autocatalysts 2012    50
   Figure 4-3    Platinum Demand Forecast, Autocatalysts    50
   Figure 4-4     Platinum Demand Forecast by Region, Autocatalysts    51
   Figure 4-5    Palladium Demand Forecast – Autocatalysts    51
   Figure 4-6    Palladium Demand Forecast by Region, Autocatalysts    52
   Figure 4-7    Rhodium Demand Forecast, Autocatalysts    52
4.3    The Jewelry and Investment Demand Drivers    52
   Figure 4-8    Platinum Demand by Region, Investment and Jewelry, 2012    54
   Figure 4-9    Palladium Demand by Region, Investment and Jewelry, 2012    54
   Figure 4-10    Platinum Demand Forecast – Investment and Jewelry    55
   Figure 4-11    Palladium Demand Forecast – Investment and Jewelry    55
4.4    The Petroleum Demand Driver    55
    Figure 4-12    Platinum Demand by Region, Petroleum 2012    56
    Figure 4-13    Platinum Demand Forecast, Petroleum    56
4.5    Industrial: Chemical, Electrical, Electrochemical and Glass Demand Drivers    56
   Figure 4-14    Platinum Demand by Region, Chemical and Glass 2012    57
   Figure 4-15    Palladium Demand by Region, Chemical 2012    57
   Figure 4-16    Platinum Demand Forecast, Chemical and Glass    58
   Figure 4-17    Palladium Demand Forecast – Chemical    58
   Figure 4-18    Rhodium Demand Forecast – Chemical and Glass    59
   Figure 4-19    Platinum Demand Forecast, Electrical    59
   Figure 4-20    Palladium Demand Forecast – Electrical    60
   Figure 4-21    Rhodium Demand Forecast – Electrical    60
   Figure 4-22    Iridium Demand Forecast, Chemical, Electrical and Electrochemical    61
   Figure 4-23    Ruthenium Demand Forecast, Chemical, Electrical and Electrochemical    61
4.6     Medical, Biomedical and Dental Demand Drivers    61
   Figure 4-24    Platinum Demand by Region, Biomedical 2012    62
   Figure 4-25    Platinum Demand Forecast – Biomedical    62
   Figure 4-26    Palladium Demand by Region, Dental 2012    63
   Figure 4-27    Palladium Demand Forecast, Dental    63
4.7    Other Market Drivers    63
   Figure 4-28    Platinum Demand by Region, Other Applications 2012    64
   Figure 4-29    Palladium Demand by Region, Other Applications 2012    64
   Figure 4-30    Platinum Demand Forecast, Other Applications    65
   Figure 4-31    Palladium Demand Forecast, Other Applications    65
   Figure 4-32    Rhodium Demand Forecast, Other Applications    66
   Figure 4-33    Iridium Demand Forecast, Other Applications    66
   Figure 4-34    Ruthenium Demand Forecast, Other Applications    67
4.8    PGM Demand by Element    67
      4.8.1    Platinum    67
   Figure 4-35    Platinum Demand by Application, 2012    67
   Figure 4-36    Platinum Demand by Region, 2012    68
   Figure 4-37    Global Platinum Demand Forecast    69
   Figure 4-38    Global Platinum Demand Forecast by Region    69
4.3 Palladium       69
   Figure 4-39    Palladium Demand by Application, 2012    70
   Figure 4-40    Palladium Demand by Region, 2012    70
   Figure 4-41    Global Palladium Demand Forecast    71
   Figure 4-42    Global Palladium Demand Forecast by Region    71
4.4    Rhodium    71
   Figure 4-43    Rhodium Demand by Application, 2012    72
   Figure 4-44    Rhodium Demand Forecast    73
4.5    Iridium, Ruthenium and Osmium    73
   Figure 4-45    Iridium Demand by Application, 2012    74
   Figure 4-46    Iridium Demand Forecast    74
   Figure 4-47    Ruthenium Demand by Application, 2012    75
   Figure 4-48    Ruthenium Demand Forecast    75
   Figure 4-49    Osmium Demand by Application, 2012    76
   Figure 4-50    Osmium Demand Forecast    76
4.7    Effects of Alternative Energy Schemes and the Hydrogen Economy    77
   Figure 4-51    Production of Hydrogen, Shares by Method    78

Part 5 Price Trends    80

5.1     Introduction and Methodology    80
5.2    Demand Effects on PGM Price    80
   Figure 5-1    Recent Rhodium Price History    82
5.3    Projected Price Trends    83
   Figure 5-2    Price Trends, Platinum    83
   Figure 5-3    Price Trends, Palladium    84
   Figure 5-4    Price Trends, Rhodium    84
   Figure 5-5    Price Trends, Iridium    85
   Figure 5-6    Price Trends, Ruthenium    85
   Figure 5-7    Price Trends, Osmium    86

Part 6 PGM Replacement    87

6.1    Introduction    87
6.2    Precious Metals as Alternatives and Reduced PGM-Schemes    87

6.2.1    Precious Metal-Based Substitutes in Autocatalysts    88
6.2.2    Jewelry 90

6.3    PGM-Free and Reduced PGM Autocatalysts    91

6.3.1    Alternatives Based on Conventional Chemistry    92
6.3.2    Alternatives Based on Nanotechnology    93

6.4    Electrolysis and Fuel Cell Catalyst Alternatives    95

6.4.1    Research Progress    95
6.4.2    Nanotechnology: Catalysts Based on Nanoparticles and
Nanotubes    98

6.5    Impact of Alternatives on PGM Demand and Price    101

6.5.1    Effects of Platinum Alternatives    102
   Figure 6-1    Platinum Demand, Conventional Forecast    102
   Figure 6-2    Platinum Demand Not Susceptible to Replacement    103
   Figure 6-3    Autocatalysts: Platinum Displaced by Alternatives    103
   Figure 6-4    Chemical: Platinum Displaced by Alternatives    104
   Figure 6-5    Petroleum: Platinum Displaced by Alternatives    104
   Figure 6-6    Total Platinum Displaced by Alternatives    105
   Figure 6-7    Resulting Platinum Demand After Alternatives    105
   Figure 6-8    Resulting Platinum Price, After Alternatives    106
   Figure 6-9    Demand for Platinum Alternatives    106

6.5.2    Effects of Palladium Alternatives    106
   Figure 6-10    Palladium Demand, Conventional Forecast    107
   Figure 6-11    Palladium Demand Not Susceptible to Replacement    107
   Figure 6-12    Autocatalysts: Palladium Displaced by Alternatives    108
   Figure 6-13    Chemical: Palladium Displaced by Alternatives    108
   Figure 6-14    Total Palladium Displaced by Alternatives    109
   Figure 6-15    Resulting Palladium Demand After Alternatives    109
   Figure 6-16    Resulting Palladium Price, After Alternatives    110
   Figure 6-17    Demand for Palladium Alternatives    110

6.5.3    Effects of Rhodium Alternatives    110
   Figure 6-18    Rhodium Demand, Conventional Forecast    111
   Figure 6-19    Rhodium Demand Not Susceptible to Replacement    111
   Figure 6-20    Autocatalysts: Rhodium Displaced by Alternatives    112
   Figure 6-21    Chemical: Rhodium Displaced by Alternatives    112
   Figure 6-22    Total Rhodium Displaced by Alternatives    113
   Figure 6-23    Resulting Rhodium Demand After Alternatives    113
   Figure 6-24    Resulting Rhodium Price, After Alternatives    114
   Figure 6-25    Demand for Rhodium Alternatives    114
      6.5.4    Effects of Alternatives in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Catalysis    114
   Figure 6-26    Effect of Alternatives on PGM Demand in Hydrogen
   Fuel Cells    115

Part 7 Opportunities in Recycling and Recovery    116

7.1    Introduction    116
7.2    Scrap & Recycling    116
   Table 7-1    Energy Savings from Processing Scrap Compared with Ore    117

7.2.1    Electronics and Electrochemistry Scrap    118
7.2.2    Automotive Scrap    120
7.2.3    Market Opportunities in PGM Recycling    122
   Figure 7-1    Realized Scrap Volume: Platinum    123
   Figure 7-2    Unrealized Scrap Volume: Platinum    123
   Figure 7-3    Realized Scrap Volume: Palladium    124
   Figure 7-4    Unrealized Scrap Volume: Palladium    124
   Figure 7-5    Realized Scrap Volume: Rhodium    125
   Figure 7-6    Unrealized Scrap Volume: Rhodium    125
   Figure 7-7    Realized Scrap Volume: Iridium    126
   Figure 7-8    Unrealized Scrap Volume: Iridium    126
   Figure 7-9    Realized Scrap Volume: Ruthenium    127
   Figure 7-10    Unrealized Scrap Volume: Ruthenium    127

7.3    Slag and Mine Waste    127
   Figure 7-11    PGM Slag Recovery, North America    128
   Figure 7-12    Slag Recovery, North America, by Metal    129
   Figure 7-13    PGM Slag Recovery, Rest of World    129
   Figure 7-14    Slag Recovery, Rest of World, by Metal    130
   Figure 7-15    New PGM Supply with Improved Recovery: Platinum,
Palladium, Rhodium    130
   Figure 7-16    New PGM Supply with Improved Recovery: Iridium,
   Ruthenium, Osmium    131
7.4    Effect of Improved Recycling and Slag Recovery on PGM Prices    131
   Figure 7-17    Conventional Price Forecast: Platinum, Palladium, Rhodium    132
   Figure 7-18    Conventional Price Forecast: Iridium, Ruthenium, Osmium    132
   Figure 7-19    Prices, with Improved Recovery: Platinum, Palladium, Rhodium    133
   Figure 7-20    Prices with Improved Recovery: Iridium, Ruthenium, Osmium    133

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Platinum Group Metals: Issues and Opportunities


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