May 18 / Chemistry / 6 min read
A metal twice as valuable as gold and almost thrice as platinum, its palladium.
Wait, but why is this metal so valuable?
If you don’t know, no worries, as we got you covered. Let me begin by introducing you to palladium. Palladium is a chemical element with the symbol Pd, atomic number 46, and atomic weight 106. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by the English chemist William Hyde Wollaston and belongs to a group known as platinum group elements (PGEs). It is extracted as a byproduct from mining other metals like platinum or nickel.
Now you may think that palladium being so rare and precious might be used in jewellery which is true, but about 80% of palladium is used in catalytic converters. Yes, because it helps us tackles a bunch of toxic emissions. But how?
When an engine is operating, mostly three things are emitted: unburned fuel, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide. So when these gases pass through a catalytic converter the nanoparticles of palladium and other PGEs inside work to burn up or break down the toxic gases into less harmful ones. Catalytic converters have led to a significant drop in carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide emissions since their adoptions in the 1970s. With more demands of palladium, the cost of palladium is also skyrocketing, but there isn’t enough to go around. Russia and South Africa, the two major suppliers of palladium all over the world, As governments across the world, are tightening pollution-related norms, the demand for emissions-reducing catalysts, in which palladium is used is increasing at a great pace.
Scientists are also working on replacing rare metals in the catalytic converters with metals that are present in abundance and have a significantly low price. It is a tough challenge for them, but it’s a very exciting area of research.
However palladium has no place in an electric vehicle. As the world shifts to EVs, the demand for palladium may fall gradually in the years to come. However, the metal is used in hybrid vehicles.