What gives white gold its glittering, bright color, but can also keep your car from spitting out all of the toxins it produces? Palladium, of course! One of the rarest members of the platinum group is also one of the most useful, but it’s possible you’ve never even heard of it.
Beautiful, but Rare
Palladium has most of the characteristics you’d expect from a member of the platinum group: it is an excellent catalyst, and it does not oxidize easily. However, it makes a departure from the norm in that it is very malleable, and has, therefore, become a popular jewelry material.
Discovered by William Hyde Wollaston in 1803, palladium was one of two platinum group metals that Wollaston discovered in that same year.
This metal, like most in the platinum group, is quite rare. The largest deposit of palladium by far occurs in Russia, so political tensions can drive its price up significantly, as was the case when they reached an all time high in 2014.
Fighting Smog, Facilitating Tech
The most prevalent use of palladium is in catalytic converters. Usually in combination with other platinum group metals, palladium helps purify a car’s emissions before they leave the exhaust pipe. By forcing the exhaust to interact with palladium, a significant amount of nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon is cleaned up.
Another increasingly important application of palladium is in laptops and smartphones, where layers of palladium can be found between layers of ceramic. Palladium absorbs a significant amount of hydrogen, so it can also be used as a means of purification.
With about 90% of the U.S. palladium consumption being an import, it remains to be seen whether this rare metal can be counted on as a long term tech solution.