What Is Palladium?

Palladium is a shiny, silvery metal used in many types of manufacturing processes, particularly for electronics and industrial products. It can also be used in dentistry, medicine, chemical applications, jewelry, and groundwater treatment. The majority of the world's supply of this rare metal, which has the atomic number 46 on the periodic table of elements, comes from mines located in the United States, Russia, South Africa, and Canada.

Understanding Palladium

Palladium is an important component in electronics, and it is used in many new technologies, such as fuel cells. As a commodity, it has drawn the attention of investors because it is not easily substituted for other metals. For example, the element is an important component of catalytic converters. Palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium, and osmium form a group of elements referred to as the platinum group metals (PGMs).

Key Takeaways

  • Palladium is a shiny metal used in many electronic and industrial products.
  • Along with platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium, and osmium, the metal is part of a group known as platinum group metals.
  • The bulk of the world's palladium supplies come from Russia, South Africa, the U.S., and Canada.
  • Compared to gold, the metal is 30 times more rare.
  • Palladium can be rolled into sheets, which are then used in applications like fuel cells and solar energy.

Palladium is 30 times more rare than gold. This rarity affects its price on commodities markets and the metal reached record highs of more than $1,800 in Oct. 2019. The record low of $78 was set in Aug. 1991.

In 2018, humans mined more than 200,000 tons of palladium. Russia produced the most at 85,000 tons. South Africa was second with 68,000 tons and Canada ranked third with 17,000 tons. The United States produced 14,000 tons and Zimbabwe was the fifth-largest after producing 12,000 tons.

The price of palladium hovered around $100 to $150 per ounce from 1986 to 1996 before spiking in 2001. Historically, the price of palladium was more volatile from 2001 to 2016 compared to previous periods. It then rose to more than $1,000 for the first time in Oct. 2017 and surpassed the $1,500 mark in Feb. 2019.

Benefits of Palladium

Jewelers first incorporated palladium into jewelry in 1939. When mixed with yellow gold, the alloy forms a metal stronger than white gold. In 1967, the government of Tonga issued circulating palladium coins touting the coronation of King Taufa Ahau Tupou IV. This is the first recorded instance of palladium used in coinage.

Metalworkers can create thin sheets of palladium down to 1/250,000th of an inch. Pure palladium is malleable, but it becomes stronger and harder once someone works with the metal at room temperature. The sheets are then used in applications like solar energy and fuel cells.

The largest industrial use for palladium is in catalytic converters because the metal serves as a great catalyst that speeds up chemical reactions. This shiny metal is 12.6% harder than platinum, making the element more durable than platinum.