In this article, we analyze flows of the platinum group metals (PGMs) platinum, palladium, and rhodium and the environmental impacts associated with their supply in Europe. A model of the use of PGMs in Europe has been developed, and this is combined with a model of environmental pressures related to PGM production.
Seven industrial sectors and product groups form the main users of PGMs in Europe, comprising the chemical, petroleum, and glass industries; jewelry, dentistry, electronic equipment, and car catalysts. Most relevant environmental impacts of secondary production in Europe and primary PGM production in South Africa, Russia, and Canada are taken into account, including emissions of sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide and total material requirement.
The article quantifies the PGM flows to, from, and within Europe in 2004. The automotive industry is the single largest user of primary PGMs, and catalytic converters represent the major PGM end use. The chemical and glass industries also require large amounts of PGM but rely mostly on secondary metals. The environmental impacts of primary production exceed those of secondary production by far. An analysis of the use of car catalytic converters shows that as a result of efforts to reduce air pollutant emissions in Europe, other negative environmental impacts, such as point-source pollution and mining waste, are occurring elsewhere—for example, at extraction and refining sites in Siberia and South Africa.