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Open AccessArticle

Precious Metals in Automotive Technology: An Unsolvable Depletion Problem?

by Ugo Bardi 1,* and Stefano Caporali 2,3
1
Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Università di Firenze, Via G. La Pira 4, 50121 Firenze, Italy
2
Dipartimento di Chimica, Università di Firenze, Via della Lastruccia 3, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino, Italy
3
Consorzio Interuniversitario Nazionale per la Scienza e Tecnologia dei Materiali, Via Giusti 9, 50123 Firenze, Italy
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Minerals 2014, 4(2), 388-398; https://doi.org/10.3390/min4020388
Received: 4 November 2013 / Revised: 24 April 2014 / Accepted: 25 April 2014 / Published: 30 April 2014
Since the second half of the 20th century, various devices have been developed in order to reduce the emissions of harmful substances at the exhaust pipe of combustion engines. In the automotive field, the most diffuse and best known device of this kind is the “three way” catalytic converter for engines using the Otto cycle designed to abate the emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and unburnt hydrocarbons. These catalytic converters can function only by means of precious metals (mainly platinum, rhodium and palladium) which exist in a limited supply in economically exploitable ores. The recent increase in prices of all mineral commodities is already making these converters significantly expensive and it is not impossible that the progressive depletion of precious metals will make them too expensive for the market of private cars. The present paper examines how this potential scarcity could affect the technology of road transportation worldwide. We argue that the supply of precious metals for automotive converters is not at risk in the short term, but that in the future it will not be possible to continue using this technology as a result of increasing prices generated by progressive depletion. Mitigation methods such as reducing the amounts of precious metals in catalysts, or recycling them can help but cannot be considered as a definitive solution. We argue that precious metal scarcity is a critical factor that may determine the future development of road transportation in the world. As the problem is basically unsolvable in the long run, we must explore new technologies for road transportation and we conclude that it is likely that the clean engine of the future will be electric and powered by batteries. View Full-Text
Keywords: platinum; platinum group metals (PGM); automotive; catalytic converter platinum; platinum group metals (PGM); automotive; catalytic converter
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Bardi, U.; Caporali, S. Precious Metals in Automotive Technology: An Unsolvable Depletion Problem? Minerals 2014, 4, 388-398.

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