The platinum group metals (PGMs) are noble and precious elements, which include platinum, palladium, ruthenium, iridium, osmium, and rhodium. The availability of PGMs is considered a highly critical issue for the EU. The importance of PGMs is demonstrated in the figure below taken from the EU report “Critical Raw materials for the EU”, which maps materials supply risk as a function of economic (technological) importance. PGMs are clearly in the high supply risk region; only rare earth elements face a more severe supply risk while the economic importance of PGMs is higher.
The following socio-economic factors means that the availability of PGMs remains a highly critical issue for the EU:
(a) There is no primary production in the EU.
(b) Recycling from consumer products (e.g. catalytic converters, electronics, jewellery) remains limited.
(c) The potential substitutes for each element are typically PGMs themselves, merely shifting the problem from one rare metal to another (e.g. Pt and Pd).
(d) The supply risk of PGMs is considerable, especially considering the current geopolitical uncertainty associated with prevalent PGM-producing countries.
(e) Current forecasts indicate that, as PGMs are increasingly adopted in emerging technologies such as fuel cells and related green energy conversion devices, future needs will greatly exceed annual production, as well as global reserves. For example, detailed studies have indicated that presently known platinum reserves may last only for 15 years with the current increasing consumption trends.
It is clear therefore that finding sustainable solutions for the replacement of PGMs is essential for advances in existing and future technologies as well as consumer products.
Figure: Economic importance and supply risk of 41 selected materials in the EU. The production of a material in few countries marked by political and economic instability, coupled to a low recycling rate and low substitutability, will result in a very high supply risk. The cluster in the top right corner can be delimited with horizontal and vertical lines that are the thresholds above which the raw materials are considered as critical.