Palladium is a lustrous silver-white colored metal that doesn’t lose its shine at ordinary temperatures. It is currently the most valuable metal amongst the other four precious metals of the world because of its rarity. Just a few years ago this obscure metal was valued considerably lower than gold and platinum.
Palladium belongs to the platinum group, and the chemical element of it makes it the least dense metal having the lowest melting point amongst the six platinum-group metals.
With time, palladium’s growing usage in numerous fields and lower supply ratio of the same has made this metal considerably expensive, and in recent times, palladium is enjoying a boom in terms of its demands in the market.
Usage and Applications
As palladium doesn’t get tarnished at ordinary temperatures and it is much less dense than platinum, jewelry makers since 1939 has been using this metal and its alloys as a substitute for platinum in jewelry making. A small amount of palladium alloyed with gold produces white gold the best of its kind.
This metal is also used in dentistry for making crowns, caps and bridges, electronics, surgical instruments, watchmaking, electrical contacts, blood sugar test strips, and in making astronomical mirrors.
The primary use palladium is in automobile catalytic converters. It converts pollutants into less harmful gases and water vapor and gives a chance to the automotive industry to excel in their environmental performance. Another major use of this metal and palladium-silver alloy is for electrodes in multilayer ceramic capacitors in the field of electronics. Both of these applications are responsible for the recent surge in prices.
Limited Occurrences Worldwide
Palladium is a rare element and can be obtained as a byproduct of mining gold, silver, platinum, nickel, and copper. A very small percentage of the mines operating worldwide are extracting either palladium or platinum.
Russia is the major producer of palladium, followed by South Africa, the US, and Canada. The rise in demand for palladium has been motivating miners to count on this metal. Norilsk Nickel, a Russian company, is the first rank holder for producing the maximum percentage of palladium amongst other large producers.
In some locations such as Australia, the Ural Mountains, South and North America, and Ethiopia, palladium is found as a free metal, alloyed with gold and other platinum group metals. The only commercial palladium mine in the United States is the Stillwater Mine in Montana.
Palladium mining is an intricate process, and it requires mechanical extraction methods to easily get down to the lower levels of the earth’s surface to haul it out. Since it mostly occurs with the deposits of other metals such as gold, platinum, silver, copper, etc., the process of separation is also very important after extraction to get pure palladium.
Nearly all palladium being mined today comes from large open-pit mining operations. Most mines extract all 6 of the platinum-group metals iridium, osmium, platinum, rhodium, and ruthenium.
In narrow reef areas, slusher cut and fill mining process (in spite of being less productive) are the best solution to dig out ore. In the ramp and fill process, hand detained or mechanized drills are used for flashing and load-haul-pump mucking equipment to drag away the ore. The process starts in a parallel stope.
Where the reef area is constricted with six feet or less breadth, and high-speed equipment cannot enter, Miners use slusher cut and fill mining as an effectual technique to dig out ore. A slusher is an electrical appliance with a 48-inch scrapper container to move away ore from the stope.
Palladium, being an essential component of many products and processes specially in catalytic converters in cars, has been enjoying an extensive boom with prices going up over 100% in a short span of three years. This rise in demand is proof that there are only a small number of established mines and producers.
Miners of all sizes are getting encouraged with this market scenario to venture into Palladium mining. However, with new players in the ground and supply meeting up the growing demand, the scenario could drastically change.
Changes in vehicle technology could drastically change demand in the future. Unlike many other metals, palladium is not widely used beyond the automotive industry and new regulations and technology in this field could drastically impact the metals price.
For now, those who invested in palladium are reaping the rewards.