This, the catalytic convertor does by converting more than 95% of the hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides produced by motor vehicle engines to less harmful carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapour. In the European Union, the use of catalytic convertors has helped, together with cleaner fuels, to contribute to a 98% reduction in vehicle emissions. More than half of all the cars on the roads around the world and more than 90% of new vehicles are fitted with autocatalytic convertors. Today, demand for PGMs from the automotive industry is significant and growing, underpinned by evermore stringent legislation in the USA and Europe and burgeoning auto markets in China and India.
Jewellery has been a key driver of overall platinum demand over the past decade. Given platinum's high degree of purity, the jewellery does not fade or tarnish and it is non-allergenic. The platinum jewellery market first took off in Japan and has in recent years become increasingly significant in China. Aside from its aesthetic qualities, platinum's strength, hardness and density make it a safe setting for diamonds and other precious stones. Being non-allergenic and oxidation resistant also makes it an ideal medium for jewellery. Platinum is sometimes combined with other PGMs to enhance its various properties; as an alloy with iridium its brilliance is enhanced. Platinum is combined with palladium to improve its softness and ductility in chain making, and with ruthenium to improve its machining properties in high-volume manufacturing.
Industry and technology
Platinum and palladium have a multitude of uses in industry. In the chemical industry, the largest consumer of PGMs is for platinum-based catalysts, which in recent years have included rhodium as well, for the commercial production of nitric acid, an essential ingredient in nitrogen fertiliser.
Another major source of demand, for platinum and especially palladium, is in dental applications. These metals are combined with gold and silver to produce alloys suitable for dental inlays, crowns and bridges.
In the electronics industry, a major use of palladium is in the coatings in multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCC) which store electric energy in the form of an electrostatic field. These devices are used in broadcasting equipment, mobile telephones, computers, electronic lighting and high-voltage circuits among others. Palladium is also used in the connectors in hybrid integrated circuits and inside computers while magnetic platinum-cobalt alloys are vital components of computer hard disks, enabling a substantial increase in their storage capacity.
PGMs combine to make platinum and palladium alloys of exceptional hardness and durability, making them the best coating for industrial crucibles which are required to withstand extremely high temperatures in the manufacture of chemicals and synthetics. Their purity is also important in these processes as they do not lead to contamination. In particular, platinum alloyed with rhodium is used in the crucibles for the production of high-quality glass such as liquid crystal display glass as well as fibreglass.
The petroleum industry also makes use of PGMs and their unique properties. Platinum is used in a process to upgrade the octane content of gasoline called catalytic reforming. Palladium is used in hydrocracking, a process to increase the yield of gasoline, and in isomerisation, a lesser used but more specific version of reforming.