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Nornickel contest invites innovators to explore palladium potential beyond autocatalysts


80% of palladium goes into one end-user sector

2021 Pd supply in below 500,000 oz deficit

Nornickel, the world's largest producer of palladium, said Oct. 18 it has launched the Palladium Challenge, a contest with a $350,000 prize that it organized in partnership with the International Precious Metals Institute to make palladium better known outside the automotive industry.

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The Palladium Challenge is meant to inspire individuals, businesses and academic institutions to design sustainable use-cases that feature palladium and have the potential to increase demand for the metal.

Submissions, accepted until the end of May 2022, will be judged by an independent panel of experts, with the top three projects to be unveiled in mid-September 2022 at the IPMI Annual Platinum Dinner in New York.

This is the first contest Nornickel organized with a view of raising awareness of scientific and industrial communities about palladium and how the metal can be applied in fast-developing industries assisting in the energy transition.

"We are not very comfortable with the fact 80% of global palladium goes into one end-user sector -- the automotive industry, where the metal is used as an essential component in petrol vehicle catalytic converters," Anton Berlin, Nornickel's vice president, sales and distribution, told S&P Global Platts in an interview.

Fewer catalysts in vehicles

In light of increasing transport electrification, it looks like fewer and fewer cars will have catalysts 20-30 years from now, so Nornickel is preoccupied with finding and creating new markets for palladium, Berlin said.

Being the world's top palladium producer, Nornickel has a central role to play in driving demand for the metal. The company sees it as a shortcoming -- with historical roots -- that the global chemistry industry overlooks palladium: Apart from several highly specialized corporations, developers and OEMs hardly know the metal well enough to consider its applications.

It is partly down to the fact 80% of primary palladium has and is produced in just two countries – Russia and South Africa. Although today up to 30% of used palladium is the product of scrap recycling, it is still not seen as a widespread mineral.

"In chemistry, while there are a few ways to solve the same task, if platinum can do the job, that will be it," Berlin said. "Although PGMs comprise six metals, their application research often does not look beyond platinum, and an average PhD chemistry student in the West might not be well familiar with the unique properties of palladium and how it stands out among PGMs."

Automotive forecast for year

Nornickel has previously said the automotive industry may undertake up to 100,000-200,000 oz/year palladium substitution with platinum shortly after 2023-24. It maintains the same forecast regarding the trend but has downgraded its preliminary estimate of this year's palladium supply deficit to below 0.5 million oz, from previously expected 900,000 oz.

The actual 2021 deficit is likely to be more in line with last year's 300,000 oz shortage as global auto production is not going to live up to the bullish early year forecast of 85 million; most likely it will exceed last year's 75 million output by over 1 percent, according to Nornickel.