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.