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.