PGMs have a wide range of industrial and high-technology applications. Demand for platinum is driven by its use in autocatalysts to control emissions from both petrol and diesel engine vehicles, and in jewellery. These uses are responsible for 71% of net total platinum consumption. Platinum, however, also has an enormous range of lesser-known applications, predominantly in the chemical, electrical, medical, glass and petroleum industries.
The platinum jewellery market requires constant promotion and development and Anglo Platinum is the major supporter of the Platinum Guild International, which since its inception in 1975 has played a key role in encouraging demand for platinum and establishing new platinum jewellery markets. Since 2000, China has been the number one platinum jewellery market, followed by Japan and North America.
Industrial applications for platinum are driven by technology and, especially in the case of autocatalysts, by legislation. Technological development continues to drive industrial demand and ongoing research into new applications will create further growth in this sector. With the rapid spread of exhaust emissions legislation, more than 93% of new vehicles sold in the world now have autocatalysts fitted. The intensifying stringency of emissions legislation will drive growth in PGM demand for autocatalysts as new legislation is applied to trucks and off road vehicles in the US. In Europe, the increasing popularity of diesel powered vehicles, which can only use autocatalysts that are predominantly platinum-based, continues and will further intensify demand.
Interest in fuel cell technology has accelerated dramatically over the past decade, largely on the back of rising concerns about environmental degradation and energy costs. At present, demand is small, but gradual medium to long term growth, first in small battery replacement applications and stationary fuel cells, and later with the commercialisation of fuel cell vehicles, is envisaged.
Palladium’s principal application is in autocatalysts (around 50% of net demand). Palladium is also used in electronic components, in dental alloys and more recently as an emerging jewellery metal in markets such as China. Palladium demand growth is expected to slow against a backdrop of increasing supply expected from South African expansions and recycling from spent autocatalysts.
Rhodium is an important metal in autocatalytic activity, which accounts for nearly 85% of net demand. The metal is also used in industrial applications such as glass-making for flat panel display units. In the short to medium term, the market supply and demand balance is expected to remain tight, supported by autocatalyst growth and glass demand for flat screen televisions. Thrifting (using less metal, typically in thinner coatings, to achieve the same catalytic effect) and increased supply from UG2 reef expansions may ease the market balance in the longer term.
The other three PGMs produced are ruthenium, iridium and osmium. In recent times, ruthenium has enjoyed strong uptake on the back of heavy demand from the electronics sector, where the metal is utilised to increase magnetic data-recording memory in hard disks and in plasma display panels of flat screen televisions. Ruthenium, along with iridium, is also used in chemical and electronic applications. Osmium is employed as a catalyst in the pharmaceutical industrial sector and to stain specimens for microscopic analysis.