Platinum group metals (PGMs) are used rather than consumed - their high recyclability means they can be re-used many times, reducing their impact on the environment.
PGMs are a six member family of elements which includes platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium. PGMs are an excellent raw material, catalyst and manufacturing ingredient due to their unique chemical and physical properties.
Platinum (Pt) is one of the heaviest and most dense of metals and is both an essential and precious metal. Platinum is durable, malleable and ductile, stable at extremely high temperatures, resistant to corrosion and highly recyclable. The second most abundant of the PGMs is palladium (Pd), which can absorb large amounts of hydrogen at room temperature, is chemically stable with good catalytic properties and it conducts electricity well. Rhodium, the third most found PGM, is highly reflective, hard and durable, an important component in industrial catalytic systems and is often alloyed with other PGMs in furnaces and industrial crucibles.
PGMs form the often-invisible heart of many everyday items in modern society. They are used in the manufacture of hard disks, mobile phones and aircraft turbines, in anti-cancer drugs and dental implants, in industrial catalysts and ceramic glazes, and in many more products. Their numerous applications also benefit the environment and our quality of life. They are used in air and water purification, and they are poised to unlock the versatility of green hydrogen in both stationary power generation and transport, where hydrogen can be used with PGMs in fuel cells. Today, the bulk of PGMs are used in autocatalysis, with the remainder used in jewellery, investments, electrical componentry, chemical applications, petroleum refining and in the dentistry, medical and biomedical fields.
Platinum gauzes are used in nitrous oxide (N2O) abatement programmes – annual N2O emissions account for a large portion of all greenhouse gasses. Innovative secondary catalysts using small amounts of PGMs reduce N2O emissions during fertiliser production by up to 90%.
Palladium can catalyse carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and is used in air purification panels in air conditioning systems, especially in enclosed environments. Palladium is also used in a solution to remove ethylene, a plant hormone that accelerates fruit ripening, ensuring fruit and vegetables stay in a good condition from the ground to the home, reducing waste. In addition, palladium has shown potential as a catalyst in groundwater purification processes, especially its ability to convert previously hard-to-remove toxic contaminants into benign end products.
Implats is proud to be at the forefront of technology developments related to the hydrogen economy via our research and development of fuel cells. Fuel cells employ electro-chemical processes rather than combustion to produce power, using hydrogen as a fuel source and producing electricity, heat and water as by-products. They offer higher efficiencies than conventional technologies, operate quietly and can be economically scaled to fit many applications.
Fuel cells are gaining attention for a range of potential applications, from combined heat and power, to distributed power generation, to transport and portable power for mobile appliances.
By far the largest use of PGMs today is in automobile catalytic converters (autocatalysts), which are pollution control devices fitted to cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other mobile machinery. Catalytic converters reduce outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas. Due to the progressive tightening of vehicle regulations around the world, it would take more than 100 of today’s vehicles with catalytic converters to produce the harmful exhaust emission of just one car sold in the 1960s. Autocatalysts convert more than 90% of hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) from petrol-run engines into less harmful carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapour. In diesel cars, oxidation catalysts convert HC and CO to water and carbon dioxide, and catalysed soot filters trap and oxidise particulate matter.
PGMs are the active ingredient in many pharmaceuticals and a vital element in modern surgical technologies and medical componentry. Platinum, for example, is used to create several lifesaving and life-enhancing medical devices, such as pacemakers, catheters, stents, neuromodulation devices to treat Parkinson’s disease, and implantable defibrillators. It is also the active ingredient in chemotherapy drugs – including cisplatin, carboplatin and oxaliplatin – and in radio-active implants for cancer-related radiation therapy. Platinum has become the favoured metal in many medical applications because it is biocompatible and durable, with excellent electrical conductivity and radiopacity.
Platinum is rare and pure, with a natural white colour. The modern history of platinum only begins in the 18th century, but archaeologists have found objects dating from as far back as 1200 BC, decorated with gold-platinum hieroglyphics. Today, platinum is the pre-eminent metal for bridal jewellery in many countries and promotional campaigns are focused on developing the market for self-purchase and fashion jewellery in Asia in particular.