The 2018 Seminar of the European Chapter of the IPMI took place in Budapest, 12-13 November. The event was held at the Hilton Budapest, in the center of the historic castle, where a great view on the whole city welcomed our participants.

As it was the case in 2017, the event was completely sold-out, and although we were able to increase the capacity to 160, we had to refuse a significant number of tentative registrations; hence booking early for 2019 would be highly recommended…

The format of the seminar was unchanged - General Assembly on Monday morning, two half-days of Seminar on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Welcome drinks and Dinner on Monday evening.

Thanks to our sponsors (Platinum : Nippon PGM; Gold : affinia recycling, Metalor & Sabin Metal; Silver : Techemet, Hensel Recycling, Oegussa, Remondis & Johnson Matthey), we were able to keep the registration fee at a very low level. Typically, EC members got an early bird rate of 330 EUR only.

On Monday afternoon, Stephen Forrest (SFA) covered the PGM supply through a very interesting journey on the South African mining industry. It was especially surprising for many to learn than with the cost of mining in South Africa raising steeply over the last years, many mines have been underwater several months in 2018, and are currently only profitable because of their revenue on minor PGM (Ir, Ru, Rh). On the market side, Stephen expects a strong deficit in Ru and Ir stocks as non-profitable mines and mines reaching their end-of-life cycles will close soon in South Africa.

Rhodium, one of the rarest precious metal, was covered by Tony Dobra (Baird & Co). Its main usage is for 3-way car catalysts, and 80% of the rhodium mined worldwide comes from South Africa. This highly volatile metal raised to 10'000 US$/ounce in 2018, dropped below 1'000 US$/ounce 2 years ago, eventually recovering to 3'000 US$/ounce now. Several ETFs have been created recently, as well as a legal tender coin (100 dollars coin in Tuvalu), generating new interest for that metal.

Jonathan Butler (Mitsubishi Corp.) gave two papers back-to-back! The first one was on Ruthenium, the best 2018 performer within the precious metals! This metal has a very varied demand, covering chemical (especially nylon and acetic acid production) and electrical (hard disk drive, chip resistors, micro electromechanical sensors MEMS) applications. Some trends could however be detrimental for Ru, for example the increased usage of SSD - not containing any Ru - rather than HDD. In agreement with Stephen's comments, Jonathan is expecting a ca. 105 koz net decline in South African Ru between 2017 and 2022. Although the deficit is increasing, there is still plenty of stock with producers and fabricators.

After a break, Iridium was discussed. Ir prices have grown steadily over the last 3 years (2016 +30%, 2017 +4%, 2018 +53%), reaching a point where Ir is more valuable than Au - which has not happened over the last 20 years. At the same time, Ir market is still very small - 250 koz annually. Electrical demand is mostly in crucibles (for example to manufacture sapphire glasses), but applications for LED and OLED are also found - Ir would typically produce brighter red and green colours. Spark plugs - using an iridium tip - are also currently consuming a significant amount of the metal, but it could be limited by future electrification of the vehicles. Another risk on Ir is the current trade war between US and China, which could be detrimental for electronic consumer products. Unlike other PGMs, Iridium total supply from South Africa is expected to be flat over the 5 next years.

On the following morning, Laura Cole (JM) discussed the use of Palladium in catalysis. As we all know, palladium demand is dominate by automotive use - reaching 8.53 Moz in 2018 and representing roughly 75% of the total consumption, with other applications in jewellery, electronics, dental and process catalysts. Laura explained that there are no readily available Pt/Rh and Pt/Pd/Rh solutions to replace currently used Pd/Rh catalysts. The automotive demand is 105.8 t/year, to compare with 192.1 t/year of mining supply & 62.7 t/year of recycling supply. For process catalysts, 48% of global demand came from China in 2018 (220 koz) – a much higher amount than Europe and its 60 koz annual consumption. Historically, the main demand for palladium catalysts came from synthesis of purified terephtalic acid (TPS), with other applications for HPO in caprolactam, coal-to-monoethylene glycol, hydrogen peroxide and of course pharma and supported catalysts.

Semih Sunkar (Nippon PGM) gave an interesting paper on Platinum demand and outlook, drawing a worrying comparison between Pt and Ag… Photography demand for silver used to represent 40% of the total demand for that metal, eventually dropping below 5% with the apparition of numeric cameras... A similar outlook could be seen for platinum, should the combustion engines and catalytic converters disappear… and fuel cells not be able to take over electric and plug-in vehicules.

Serge Gambs gave an update on the current market conditions for Gold, insisting on the significant overcapacity found on the refining side: there are 32 refineries in India & 15 in Dubai, and worldwide there is in total 3 times the capacity of the yearly available volume to be recycled. Serge presented, country by country, many interesting facts related to local and global demand and offer.

Junlu Liang (Metal Focus) discussed about Silver, a metal whose price has been decreasing almost continuously over the last decade. Silver industrial applications are often associated with photovoltaic cells. But the silver loadings for such application has decreased by 70% from 2010, and this tendency will continue over the next years. At the same time, a large range of applications are found in automotive, as that metal is found in multiple devices including LEDs, actuators, heated seats and batteries. With the silver content in cars increasing and the number of cars to grow, the automotive industry is likely to be a key factor of the Ag demand over the next years. Flexible electronics and 3D printing could also be applications generating a demand for Ag in the future.

Final paper was given by Neil Harby, Chief Technical Officer of the LBMA. With 4800 t of gold going annually through LBMA refineries, the key role of this association is well established – as a matter of fact, 85-90% of the annual world gold production is supposed to be handled by the 68 LBMA Gold Good Delivery Refiners. LBMA has recently been extensively working on the Gold Bar Integrity, through a Request for Proposal on supply chain provenance and security feature. The presentation also led to many questions from the audience, as many were surprised to learn that being on the Good Delivery List does not guarantee acceptability of 400 oz bars on the London market.

This will be the fifth annual networking event organised by the European Chapter during London Platinum Week (Wednesday 16 May 2018) to bring together professionals working in the precious metals business. It will take place, like last years, in the beautiful 1880 Room at The Bentley Hotel.

Doors open at 4 pm, and the tasting will start around 4:30 pm. Wine tasting will be best enjoyed by arriving on time...

This event is reserved for European Chapter members and their guests.

The 2019 Seminar of the European Chapter of the IPMI took place in Lisbon, Portugal, 17-19 November 2019. The event was held at the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa, in the city center, where a great view from the top bar on the whole city welcomed our participants on Sunday night - a new feature of the seminar, as we add that welcome mixer.

As it was the case in 2017 & 2018, the event was completely sold-out, and although we were able to increase the capacity to 175, we had to refuse almost 20 tentative registrations; hence booking early for 2020 would be highly recommended… as every year!

Apart the Sunday drinks, the format of the seminar was unchanged - General Assembly on Monday morning, two half-days of Seminar on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Welcome drinks and Dinner on Monday evening.

Thanks to our sponsors, we were able to keep the registration fee at a very low level. 


Precious Metals Products & Technologies

Neil Meader from Metal Focus opened the conference with a paper on silver technological developments. He presented the four phases of technological development: Invention, Innovation (invention becomes commercially viable), Diffusion (widespread use of the technology) and Obsolescence. For silver, the obvious example of obsolescence being the use of silver in photography (from >6’000 tons in 2001 to around 1’000 tons today.  Diffused technologies for silver include electronics, electrical, batteries (silver oxide), … Innovation using silver is interesting, with many emerging technologies – 5G, solar (concentrated solar power), wind turbines, wearables (smart watches), bonding wires, antibacterial applications. The best potential for silver relies in the possible inventions – IoT, induction chargers, cold sintering, inkjet printing. There is a lot of potential but obviously, the associated threats are numerous. I conclusion, innovation is more present for silver than obsolescence.

Peter Varyushin from Nornickel jumped directly to PGM market, which has to discuss the palladium recent price changes! The market has been in backwardation from 2017, driven by market tightness caused by strong ingots demand in China. While the automotive sales are decreasing almost everywhere in 2019 (-10% for China, -12% for India), that metal is still in high demand due to the expected increase of Pd loading for catalytic converters.

The market is very different from Pt and Pd, as seen below:

Still, no substitution of Pd but Pt is foreseen, as Pd has specific properties that can’t be attained by Pt. New developments performed by Norilsk Nickel will allow the Pt and Pd productions to increase by 25% by 2025.

Thomas Stenger from Heraeus discussed the case of platinum, which is quite different from Pd. Clearly, the overall demand is expected to lower over the next years, mostly because of less automotive and jewellery applications. The expected increase of industrial products will not compensate that.

An example of such products fabricated by Heraeus comprises tools for glass making – tubes and components, as well as stirrers and plungers

Kim De Jonge explained that Umicore employs 240 people in the sampling department, processing 9000 lots per year. Increasing robustness and reducing throughput time are the drivers for automation. Kim focused on the final sample preparation, describing step by step the work done by the robot developed.

An impressive video showed the machine in action, after a 3-5 years project.

Umicore is currently expending such automation for spent automotive catalysts and spent industrial aluminum based catalysts.

 After the break, SICPA company was presented by Vincent Mathier. This Swiss company is a world leader in the security ink business, and their products are used at high level including in bank notes and passports. Securisation of products can be done via overt features (a security feature that is visible without a specific equipment), covert features (requiring specific hand-held devices) and forensic features (only detectable by forensic experts in a laboratory).

BullionProtect is a mix of overt and covert security, allowing easy validation of ingots bearing that security ink.
This solution is currently used by several LBMA refiners.

John Fairley presented the LPPM – London Platinum and Palladium Association. Among the new projects handled by the association is the new Compliance program for Pt and Pd Good Delivery refiners, starting 1st January 2020. LPPM and IPMI have also started a joined proficiency program on fine platinum – the first of its kind. This will allow 27 laboratories that already registered comparing their analytical abilities. LPPM is also launching a a Pt and Pd sponge accreditation scheme; such material will not be deliverable to clearers in London, but it expected to create a new industry standard.

Bill Tierney, CAI Software, presented a paper on “Where the precious metal is” and “Who owns it”, discussing where precious metal inventory can be found and how it impacts on the financials of a company.

Par Rosendahl from Arc Metal offered a detailed presentation on the History of Plasma Arc Technologies. From its first industrial application in 1906 for fertilizer production to the first commercial industrial plant in 1984 for recycling flue dust from steel plants, which can be seen below and is still in operation.

Jonathan Butler (Mitsubishi Corp) discussed the Euro 7 regulations. Currently, for diesel, Euro 6-TEMP (2017-19) and Euro 6d (2019-21) allows generating more NOx than the formal limit. This will not be the case for EURO 7 (2023-25), as 80 mg/km for NOx will be strictly enforced and checked in real-life conditions. For those reasons, EURO 7 will lead to more complex catalysts formulations, and overall require more usage of PGM:

Jonathan again underlined that replacement of Pd by Pt is unlikely – this would even require a re-engineering of the exhaust circuit, and catalysts maker are not seeing the Pd/Pt price ratio stay as high as it is today. Substitution of Rh by Pd is also unlikely – while the Rh is now 3 times more expensive than Pd, it is 4—6 times more effective.

Furthermore, while electric vehicles are not using any precious metals for catalysts, hybrid cars are good for PGM demand. With 90% of the Pd used by the car industry, there could be an impact on demand in a couple of years.

Michelle Lynch from Enabled Future discussed the impact of climate change in our industry. The level of CO2 in air is today at 415 ppm, raising by a 3-4 ppm every year – not to mention the more potent CH4 greenhouse gas emissions. Power-to-X is a technology for electricity conversion, energy storage, and reconversion pathways that utilize surplus electric power. On a smart-city level, power will be effectively transferred for example from a solar panel to a car battery. Such decentralization and power-to-X will shift the PGM demand to new technologies, and create business opportunities:

Steven R. Izatt from IBC Advanced Technologies talked about SuperLig® - MRT systems, which can overcome several bottlenecks in PGM refining processes, typically by recovering individual PGMs at low concentration from waste solutions. This can be applied for spent automotive and petrochemical catalysts, plating baths solutions…

Alexey Kornienko, Krastsvetmet, closed the meeting talking about the issue posed by non-noble metal elements – including deleterious ones. Those elements are often accumulated after many years of material inflow.