You may be familiar with platinum or palladium, its sister metal, from admiring a piece of jewelry. But did you know that these two rare elements are present in products that we use every day —maybe even in your own body? You’ll find platinum and palladium at the crossroads of metallurgy and technology—including biomedicine. Historically, platinum is more widespread commercially, but palladium is surging. But why are they so important?
Platinum and palladium are precious metals, like gold and silver, and are internationally recognized as investment and trading commodities. They share many physical, chemical and mechanical properties:
Both platinum and palladium have a remarkable capacity to absorb hydrogen, which is why half the world’s yield of these metals is used in automobile catalytic converters for emission control.
Platinum is 75% denser than palladium (See Chart 1) and 20 times as dense as water. Its density allows platinum to be manipulated into more minute shapes without breaking. Platinum’s extremely high melting point withstands intense heat applications, such as oven temperature sensors and crucibles, or as a coating on ballistic missile nose cones. Palladium is almost as light as gold but more ductile. As the rarer metal, platinum has commanded higher prices than palladium over the past 25 years (See Chart 2). In 1990 platinum sold for $500 USD per Troy ounce — five times as much as palladium. Today the ratio is much smaller, with platinum ($1172) selling for about 1.5 times more than palladium ($777) in April 2015.
Platinum became commercially viable in the mid-18th Century; palladium followed in the 19th. Despite a late start, palladium’s functional similarity and lower cost proved it a legitimate alternative. Today, platinum and palladium components are everywhere — in your car, in dental implants and in electronics such as circuit boards and cell phones. But perhaps the most innovative uses for these precious metals and their alloys are in biomedicine.
Platinum and palladium are ideally suited to medical applications. As metals, they can be formed into virtually any shape — roll, wire, sheet, tube, ribbons and more — even into micro-sized parts or surgical instruments. But other attributes set them apart as true biomedical marvels.
Platinum and palladium are noncorrosive and chemically inert; in most cases they do not cause allergic reactions inside the body, unlike copper and nickel, making them better options for use in temporary and permanent implant devices. Their excellent electrical conductivity is ideal for electrodes in stimulation devices such as defibrillators and pacemakers or in monitoring instruments. Their ductility as ultra-thin guide wires allows surgeons to position stents and balloon catheters inside the body. And because platinum and palladium are radiopaque — clearly visible on X-rays — they are used as marker bands on implants and catheters. They add strength and durability as components of replacement hip and knee joints.
Utilized for about 40 years in the biomedical marketplace, platinum continues to dominate palladium. Yet the principal differences between the two metals — mass, density and melting/boiling points — would not appear to favor one over the other with regard to biomedical applications. Palladium’s lower price and similar properties and practical capabilities merit serious consideration.
With so much overlap in applications, the decision to use platinum or palladium often is a matter of the customer’s preference, or market prices, or a function of both. Commercially, platinum is the clear “heavyweight” with a broader range of applications, but when their properties are equally feasible, palladium enjoys the edge on price. While platinum had the head start, palladium is now an established, viable option and is closing the gap. As palladium’s acceptance expands, the day is coming when platinum and palladium will be truly interchangeable.
Sourcing Scarce supply, voracious worldwide demand (driven by Asia’s booming automobile market) and other economic, political and natural forces keep platinum and palladium prices unpredictable Prince & Izant understands the impact of market volatility and strives to help you maximize savings. We offer several pricing options (fixed, floating, scrap) to fit your business needs. Our customized inventory management systems optimize your supply chain. And our scrap reclamation program help you get the highest yield from your material. Talk to your P&I representative to learn more about how we can deliver value to you.