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Industrial demand for platinum is due to reach a record high this year, growing 14 per cent year-on-year to 2,667 koz. Chemical demand for platinum is a subset of industrial platinum demand. On its own, the chemicals sector only accounts for a modest component of total platinum demand at around 10 per cent (figure 1). However, on average, chemical demand is the single largest sub-sector of platinum industrial demand (figure 2). In addition, chemical demand for platinum has exhibited a consistent history of platinum demand growth, increasing by a CAGR of 3.5 percent between 2013 and 2023.
The growth of chemical demand epitomises the benefits to the platinum market of its diverse end uses, which all have different economic drivers that net out for a more consistent demand growth profile. This year, platinum chemical demand is forecast to total 758 koz, up 12 per cent from 2022.
In the majority of chemical applications, platinum is used as a catalyst to speed up reactions, to reduce the energy requirements of a process, and/or to improve the yield. Examples of platinum’s use in the chemicals industry include the production of nitric acid for fertilizser manufacturing, making high-quality silicone rubbers, and grey or blue hydrogen generation from steam methane reformation.
Growth in chemical demand for platinum broadly tracks long-term installed capacity trends in the petrochemicals industry. By examining this correlation, and assuming an historically modest 2.85 per cent CAGR in chemicals capacity going forward, WPIC estimates there is potential for chemical demand for platinum to reach 793 koz in 2027, a 100 oz increase against its current base case projections of 693 koz in 2027, as set out in WPIC’s latest two-to-five-year outlook.
The global petrochemicals sector serves a diverse market of end-uses, including plastics, adhesives, fertilizers, and detergents. Platinum’s catalytic properties support its use across several chemical derivatives, including paraxylene, mono-ethyl glycol, nitric acid, propylene, high-quality silicones, and dehydrogenation.
Platinum catalysts allow for higher yields and reduced energy requirements as processes typically can be conducted at lower temperatures and pressures than when catalysts are not used. Importantly, these attributes also reduce harmful emissions such as greenhouse gases.
In general, platinum catalysts are used until they have been degraded, at which point they are recycled within the industry (closed-loop recycling), with a small amount of additional platinum added to “top-up” for any losses that have occurred during the manufacturing process. An exception to this is platinum-cured silicones, where the platinum becomes locked up within the silicone and is therefore consumed during manufacturing.
Chemical demand is the single largest sub-sector of overall platinum industrial demand (figure 2).
The chemicals sector has shown consistent growth in demand for platinum, increasing by 3.5 per cent CAGR from 2013-2023. Although chemical demand accounts for only around 10 per cent of total platinum demand, its consistent growth epitomises the benefits to the platinum market of platinum’s diverse end uses. This means they all have different economic drivers and net out for a more consistent demand growth profile.
What drives platinum chemical demand?
Year-to-year, chemical demand is linked to broader economic growth. While macroeconomic volatility may impact short-term output from existing plants, capacity investment decisions are undertaken with a longer-term view of global economic growth, which generally results in greater certainty in the timing of new plant commissioning.
Tracking underlying olefins capacity (ethylene and propylene) to approximate the broad chemicals industry, installed capacity has increased by 3.5 per cent and 3.7 per cent CAGR since 2013, respectively. Installed capacity growth broadly reflects chemical platinum demand which, net of closed-loop recycling, has run at a CAGR of 3.5 percent since 2013. Comparative growth rates suggest a strong correlation between installed chemicals capacity and chemicals platinum demand (figure 3). The correlation between cumulative installed chemical capacity and platinum demand is attributed to top-up consumption, which is necessary to replace ounces lost during the production process.
Top-up platinum consumption is typically less than the platinum requirements for capacity additions, however somewhat surprisingly, there is no evident correlation between chemicals platinum demand and the timing of the commissioning of new chemicals capacity (figure 4).
Industrial demand in 2023 is forecast to grow by 14 per cent year-on-year to a record 2,667 koz, while platinum chemical demand is set to total 758 koz in 2023, up 12 per cent from on 2022. The majority of the year-on-year increase for platinum chemicals demand stems from paraxylene capacity and propane dehydrogenation expansions.
A recovery in nitric acid demand, following weaker European demand in 2022, will further benefit platinum chemicals demand. This weaker demand during 2022 was, in part, due to the invasion of Ukraine driving energy prices higher (making some production uneconomic).
Looking ahead to 2027, NexantECA forecasts ethylene and propylene installed capacity, a proxy for overall chemical capacity expansion, to increase by 2.6 per cent and 3.1 per cent CAGR, respectively, supporting ongoing demand growth for platinum from the chemicals sector.
In conclusion, assuming a 2.85 per cent CAGR in chemicals capacity, which is lower than the 3.5 percent from 2013, and factoring in a cautious economic overlay, platinum demand in the chemical sector may reach 793 koz by 2027, exceeding WPIC’s base case by 100 koz.
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