For some, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word Palladium is boots – made popular by the French Legion and the Grunge movement of the 1990s. Others may be more familiar with the element Palladium, a member of the Platinum-Group Metals (PGMs), and as ARPN would argue, of greater interest to us than footwear – which happens to be another Nickel co-product.
A lustrous silver-white metal, it is the least dense of the Platinum-Group Metals, and has the lowest melting point among its peers. It is strongly corrosion resistant at ordinary temperatures, forms many compounds and has a great ability to absorb hydrogen.
Palladium’s leading uses (which also apply for its fellow PGMs) are in catalytic converters to decrease harmful automobile emissions – an area where demand is likely to grow in light of tighter environmental standards. It is also used in catalysts in petroleum refining and bulk-chemical production, as well as electronic applications, and jewelry-making. More recently, a team of Japanese researchers successfully used a permeable Palladium film to transform radioactive waste into the Rare Earth Element Praesodymium. Whether or not this discovery of Palladium’s uses will have any impact on demand remains to be seen, but it goes to show the revolution in materials science that is going on — and the potential for new uses to change the supply and demand picture for metals and minerals.
Currently, a U.S. mine in Montana is one of only two mines worldwide producing primary Palladium, while all other Palladium is derived as a co-product of mostly the Platinum and Nickel mining process. The main suppliers of global co-product Palladium are South Africa, Russia, and the United Kingdom, leaving the United States import-dependent for 58 percent of the Palladium required by domestic manufacturers. And our dependency exists in spite of the fact that the U.S. is home to significant PGM reserves.
According to a 2012 USGS study, projects to produce Palladium as a Copper-Nickel Co-product were underway in Minnesota; however, as of yet, these projects have not gone online. Meanwhile, U.S. relations with Russia – one of our lead suppliers – are deteriorating, calling into question the stability of Palladium supply for our domestic manufacturers. The bottom line: The case of Palladium should be another catalyst (pun intended) for policy makers to formulate policies conducive to domestic mineral resource development.