Industrial - Petroleum - PMM

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Platinum and oil refining


In 1949, Universal Oil Products pioneered the use of platinum catalysts as the active agent in the upgrading of low octane petroleum naphtha to high-quality products. The technology quickly became the principal method of producing high octane gasoline for automobiles and piston-engine aircraft. Platinum catalysts are also used to make petrochemical feedstocks which are the basic raw materials for the manufacture of plastics, synthetic rubber and polyester fibres.

What platinum does

The input for all petroleum refineries is crude oil, which is a mixture of hydrocarbons classified as light fractions and heavy fractions. Crude varies from region to region but in general it has a high content of heavy fractions. Gasoline and chemical feedstocks comprise mostly light fractions and so the refining process is largely devoted to converting heavy fractions into more useful lighter ones.

Platinum is used in the processes known as reforming and isomerisation, which create the higher octane components for gasoline. Platinum is key to the production of gasoline - without it, refineries would not be able to produce enough gasoline to meet current requirements.

Other platinum group metals

Palladium is used by a limited number of refiners for upgrading certain refinery feeds in a process known as hydrocracking. Iridium can also be used in conjunction with platinum in a few niche reforming applications.

Platinum catalyst

Reforming and isomerisation processes use catalysts made by coating platinum onto an alumina substrate in the form of small pellets or beads. The platinum content of the catalyst is normally less than 0.6 per cent by weight. In most modern refineries platinum is combined with tin or rhenium for improved performance.

Platinum demand

When platinum reforming was first introduced, consumption of platinum by the petroleum industry became a major component of industrial demand for the metal. Technical developments in refining processes over the years have led to greater catalyst efficiency, which has reduced the unit amount of platinum required. In addition, new petroleum refining catalysts have been developed with lower platinum loadings. This has been largely balanced by the rise in demand for gasoline products, leaving annual demand for platinum fairly stable.

Petroleum demand for platinum since 1975 is estimated in our market data tables.